We finally made it.
Starting Thursday night at Soldier Field and continuing through Monday, 32 teams begin their quest. The ultimate goal? Be the last team standing in South Florida on the first Sunday in February -- Super Bowl LIV champions. Another goal? Slay all dragons to finish atop the NFL.com Power Rankings. Granted, NFL teams are likely less aware of that second objective, but let's not get bogged down here. Real football is coming!
That's right. No more combine, no more mock drafts, no OTAs, no training camps, no preseason games, no more stunning retirements (probably). No more Player X Is In The Best Shape Of His Life! The time for talk is over. Our pre-Week 1 rankings will look similar to our mid-preseason rankings, with one notable exception -- that team in Indianapolis no longer has real estate in the top five. How the Colts regroup following Andrew Luck's departure is just one of countless fascinating storylines to track in 2019.
Are you excited? I'm excited. Let's get to it.
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Preseason Power Rankings, posted on Aug. 20.
Previous rank:*No. 1*
A dependable center is like a good Wi-Fi connection: You don't realize how valuable it is until it's gone. The Patriots face that situation with the news that center David Andrews might miss the entire season after being diagnosed with a blood clot in his lungs. The Pats have been busy since Andrews' diagnosis, acquiring center Russell Bodine from the Bills ( and releasing him a week later), offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor from the Ravens and offensive tackle Korey Cunningham from the Cardinals. As New England fortifies its depth, we wait to see how former first-round pick Isaiah Wynn takes as the team's third starting left tackle in as many years. This is a unit in transition, tasked with supporting a run-heavy offense and a 42-year-old QB. Bill Belichick's ace in the hole? Indefatigable offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Previous rank:*No. 2*
It's been a quiet summer for the defending NFC champions, helped in part by Sean McVay's now-annual tradition of punting on the preseason for his regulars. I imagine this lower profile is something the Rams are fine with. Third-year wideout Cooper Kupp is one of those regulars who has yet to see live action -- more than understandable in his case, as he works his way back from reconstructive knee surgery. The Rams' offense was never quite the same after the slot receiver went down last November, so put him on the short list -- a list that includes teammate Todd Gurley -- of players we'll look forward to seeing come Week 1. The Athletic's Jay Glazer wrote last month that "all [Kupp's] test scores, coming out of his breaks, agility, quickness, every test timed better than it was before he tore his ACL." That seems promising.
Previous rank:*No. 3*
OK, take me off the list of bozos who watched Drew Brees struggle down the stretch last season and saw it as a harbinger of doom for the future Hall of Famer. All I needed was one series in the preseason -- the 40-year-old's only series of the preseason -- to be convinced that the Saints remain in enviable shape at quarterback. Brees carved up the Jets on an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, connecting twice with wide receiver Michael Thomas, including an absurdly placed 19-yard TD pass into a non-existent window. There are maybe four people on Earth who can make that throw -- live with that reality, Dude Perfect bros. Brees' days of throwing for 5,000 yards may be over -- that's not what Sean Payton is asking for in 2019 -- but New Orleans can put its Big Three ( Brees, Thomas, Alvin Kamara) up against anybody and like their chances in an "NFL Blitz"-like showdown.
Previous rank:*No. 4*
The Chiefs are a living, breathing catastrophe for opposing defensive coordinators. In Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, K.C. has its own dominant Big Three. But the Chiefs don't stop there. This preseason, we've seen the scary game-changing speed of second-round rookie Mecole Hardman, and in the third game of the August slate, it was Damien Williams' turn. Against the 49ers, Mahomes hit Williams in stride on a wheel route, and the running back did the rest with a 62-yard touchdown sprint. Over the weekend, the Chiefs*added LeSean McCoy, the veteran running back who first rose to prominence with Andy Reid in Philadelphia. McCoy isn't the guy who ran circles around defenses with theEagles* anymore, but would it really surprise you if Shady were to crank back the clock a bit in this offense?
Previous rank:*No. 6*
Eagles fans have every reason to be optimistic as the 2019 season opens. What's an obvious weakness of this team? It's not a stretch to imagine a healthy Carson Wentz regaining his pre-injury 2017 magic and leading a top-10 offense. DeSean Jackson was a camp MVP for Philly; it's scary to think what he can add to the mix if he's in peak form. The defense -- the pass rush particularly -- is less formidable than it was last season with the departures of Michael Bennett and Chris Long, but the unit is almost certain to have better injury luck than a year ago (it couldn't be worse), and underrated defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has kept his group on a very steady level for three years and counting. While the Cowboys get all the offseason shine, the Iggles lurk in the shadows, hungrier than a Broad Street bro waiting for a Wing Bowl that won't come.
Previous rank:*No. 7*
You ever see those clips on YouTube of marathon runners or bicyclists coasting to the finish line for a win and failing to notice the competitor charging past them as they prematurely celebrate? That's what it felt like watching Eddy Pineiro*yank an extra-point attemptabout30 yards to the left* i the preseason finale against the Titans. As surreal -- as _absurd_ -- as this kicking competition has been in Chicago, it wouldn't have surprised me at that moment if Matt Nagy met Pineiro at the 20-yard line with a pink slip and bindle stick. To Eddy's credit, he converted all three of his field goal attempts after that horrendous miss, and Nagy announced that he'd won the *eek 1 job against the Packers on Thursday night. That's right: After all that, Pineiro has earned one day of job security. Have fun out there, kid!
Previous rank:*No. 8*
Looking for a breakout candidate on the Cowboys? How about second-year wide receiver Michael Gallup, who continued to flash this summer in practice and preseason action. Against the Texans in Week 3 of the preseason, Gallup showed good awareness when Dak Prescott was pressured and forced to scramble on a third-and-goal. Gallup peeled away from his defender, worked his way into Prescott's line of sight and made a 12-yard touchdown catch. Amari Cooper's foot issue has allowed Gallup to get a ton of work with Prescott, and on a team with a premier running back like Ezekiel Elliott and a legit No. 1 wideout in Cooper, Gallup will get his opportunities to be a difference-maker. Unsolicited advice: If Gallup is on your waiver wire in fantasy, you would do yourself well to scoop him up. In return for this advice, send a portion of your championship winnings to me via Venmo.
Previous rank:*No. 9*
The Steelers are about to prove you can lose two superstars and actually get better on offense. That's a credit to the organization's ability to constantly restock talent at the skill positions around Ben Roethlisberger. James Conner already delivered his breakout season in place of Le'Veon Bell last year, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, at age 22, is locked in as a superstar replacement for Antonio Brown. Now keep an eye out for second-year receiver James Washington, lighter and quicker than during his rookie campaign and making plays all summer. His 41-yard touchdown catch against the Titans was his second big play of the preseason, and Pittsburgh's incredible track record of developing wide receivers makes you think Washington will carry it over to games that count.
Previous rank:*No. 10*
Consider the events of this weekend another reminder of why the Seahawks have been the NFC's most successful team this decade: They are run by smart people who know how to play the game, and they feast on those who don't. Enter the vulnerable Houston Texans, who were desperate to unload star edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney and found a partner in a Seahawks team that gave up modest assets to land a player who plugs their most glaring deficiency. Usually it makes sense to wait it out before declaring who got the better end of a trade. Not in this case -- Seahawks GM John Schneider pulled off a heist, and Seattle is a legit NFC West contender because of it. Now we find out if Clowney can make the transition from Pro Bowl to All-Pro in Pete Carroll's defense. Don't rule it out.
Previous rank:*No. 11*
First, the good news: Andrew Luck's retirement bumps the Chargers into the top 10 of the Power Rankings. Congrats, guys! Now the bad news: In the third preseason game, a.k.a. The One That Most Resembles Actual Football, the Chargers' run defense was not up to the task in allowing 185 ground yards to the Seahawks. This is the part where I'll remind Chargers fans not to panic: Gus Bradley's defense was without a host of key starters, including Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Brandon Mebane, Thomas Davis and the injured Derwin James. Still, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise (not exactly this millennium's answer to Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen) both chewed up Los Angeles on touchdown drives. Unrelated but also troubling: The Chargers' home field, formerly the StubHub Center, was renamed Dignity Health Sports Park this offseason. If The Black Hole is at the top of the Intimidating Stadium Name Power Rankings, you can guess what's last.
Previous rank:*No. 12*
I posed this question to my Around The NFL Podcast colleagues on a recent episode: What, besides a second-year plateau or regression by quarterback Lamar Jackson, can hold the 2019 Ravens back? The general consensus was the untested new core of Baltimore's front seven, a pillar of strength in this organization for so long. Free agency did a number on the Ravens this spring -- longtime sackmaster Terrell Suggs joined Arizona, while star linebacker C.J. Mosley scored a huge contract and bounced to the Jets. Another impact linebacker, Za'Darius Smith, signed a deal with the Packers. That's a lot of talent to lose, but luckily for the Ravens, they have one of the best defensive coordinators in football in Don Martindale. Some teams you just expect to figure it out. The Baltimore Ravens qualify -- especially when it comes to defense.
Previous rank:*No. 13*
A quick recap of Kirk Cousins' debut season with the Vikings, generally remembered as a bust: 16 starts (fourth straight season without missing game), 70.1 percent completion rate (career best), 4,298 yards (second-most of his career), 30 TDs (career best), 10 INTs (fewest in his four years as a starter), 99.7 passer rating (second-best). Yes, counting numbers don't tell the whole story of a quarterback, but that's not bad! (Yeah, yeah: Cousins' 5-25 career record against winning teams is bad, but let's set that aside for the time being.) In Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Cousins has two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers. In Dalvin Cook, he has a talented young running back who looks primed for a breakout season. In Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski, Cousins has an impressive brain trust behind the scenes. If the Vikings get improved offensive line play, they have the potential to field a top-five offense this season. Top three if you're feeling frisky. No. 1 if you're fearless. Skollllllllll.
Previous rank:*No. 14*
OK, so did the Texans get better in 2019 after this past weekend? That's what these two*blockbuster tradescome down to, since we already know the draft assets sent to theDolphins* (hich include two first-round picks) will likely weaken the Texans* in he long term. Clowney's absence will be felt on defense, but the additions of wide receiver enny Stills and epecially left tackle Laemy Tunsil addressd two major areas of need. With Andrew Luck no longer in the AFC South picture, I imagine Bill O'Brien woke up Monday morning feeling confident his team will repeat as division champs. But let's not sugarcoat the situation: If the Texas falter this season -- if they again go one-and-done in the playoffs, if they stumble out of the postseason picture entirely -- O'Brien is the very obvious fall guy in Houston. BoB will be feeling that pressure from Week 1 on.
Previous rank:*No. 15*
Had the well-intentioned groundskeepers of Winnipeg done their job, we would have gotten a least one look at Aaron Rodgers operating in a very stripped-down version of Matt LaFleur's offense in the preseason, but now Rodgers' debut will have to wait until the regular-season opener against the Bears on Thursday night. The fact that Rodgers was supposed to play in Winnipeg -- and kudos to Rodgers on the Canadian tux, by the way -- is a positive sign that the back stiffness that kept him out of a previous preseason cameo is not a concern as we approach Week 1. Keep an eye on Marquez Valdes-Scantling as a breakout player this season -- the Packers are due to develop another playmaker on the outside, and MVS checks the boxes entering Year 2.
Previous rank:*No. 16*
The biggest concern for the Browns right now: What happens when you take a talent-deficient, unproven offensive line and task it with protecting a swashbuckling young quarterback who hangs in the pocket, keeps his eyes up and always looks for the big play? Yep, there's potential for disaster, and Cleveland's biggest assignment this season is to make sure Baker Mayfield isn't watching games on the sideline in a sling come December. The trade for guard Wyatt Teller tells you GM John Dorsey is keenly aware of this situation. On the flip side, there are no concerns about the Browns tasked with attacking the opposing offensive line this season. Cleveland's defensive line terrorized Jameis Winston in the Week 3 preseason dress rehearsal, piling up five sacks in a shutout first half. Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon could rival Von Miller and Bradley Chubb for most sacks by a duo in 2019.
Previous rank:*No. 17*
There's a very good chance the Falcons' offense is significantly better in 2019. Former MVP Matt Ryan and All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones are givens. But let's focus on two players with monster upside: wide receiver Calvin Ridley and running back Devonta Freeman. Ridley quietly enjoyed an excellent rookie season with 821 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. If he takes the next step, the former first-round pick could give Atlanta a more explosive version of Roddy White to pair with Jones. Freeman's 2018 season was ruined by numerous injuries, and his absence was felt in both the running and passing games for Atlanta. Freeman's return should restore balance to this offense, his job made easier by what should be an improved O-line. The Falcons might never match the heights of their glorious 2016 attack, but they have the potential to lead the NFC in everything in 2019. That'll play.
Previous rank:*No. 18*
Josh Allen sure looks like the real deal, doesn't he? The seventh overall pick of this year's draft was a terror against the Dolphins in Week 3 of the preseason, finishing with four tackles (two for loss) and two QB hits in a performance that bordered on dominant at times. That's quite impressive for a rookie, even one as highly touted as Allen. The Jaguars imported Nick Foles to bring a steadying presence to their offense, but there's only so much the veteran quarterback will be able to do with what, on paper, looks like a lackluster supporting cast. The key to Jacksonville regaining relevance in the AFC is directly tied to whether or not the Jags' D can return to 2017 form or something close to it. Allen gives defensive coordinator Todd Wash another major chess piece.
Previous rank:*No. 20*
Not every team is terrified of its place kicker -- it just seems that way. The Panthers could have been in that position after veteran mainstay Graham Gano developed a left-leg injury that sent him to injured reserve. Luckily, the fabulously named Joey Slye stepped up in August and inherits the job from Gano. Slye hit a 59-yarder against the Steelers, his third conversion from 50-plus yards this preseason. Playing in the ultra-competitive NFC South, having a dependable kicker could be the difference between 11-5 and 8-8. That makes Slye one of the most important players on this Panthers team. Yeah, I said it. Respect the kicker! Meanwhile, Cam Newton is on track to start Week 1 after injuring his foot in Week 3 of the preseason. Related note: That was the final preseason game Ace Boogie will ever play. Hope you saved your ticket stub.
Previous rank:*No. 5*
I wrote in this space last time that I'd drop the Colts 15 spots if Andrew Luck's injury cost him extended time. It did. Out of respect for grieving Indy fans, I halted the Power Rankings free fall at 14 spots. After Luck's shocking retirement, head coach Frank Reich offered up his best Dick Vermeil impression, promising that his Colts would rally around new starter Jacoby Brissett. The organization backed up the coach's show of faith in Brissett with a generous contract extension that should provide their new starter a long leash. The Colts also handed out a sizable contract to Brian Hoyer to become their new backup. It's almost like Indy is trying to pay its way back to QB tranquility. If only it were that easy.
Previous rank:*No. 19*
Something occurred to me while watching the Titans this preseason: Tennessee's move to insure itself against Marcus Mariota this offseason was to, well, acquire a second Marcus Mariota. Ryan Tannehill isn't a carbon copy of the Titans' fifth-year starter, but let's just say Tennessee wouldn't be hit with any building-code violations by constructing Chateau Mariota and Hotel Tanny side by side. The floor and ceiling in each structure is just about the same. This isn't to say that the Titans are doomed. After all, they've always been competitive with Mariota -- they even won a playoff game in Arrowhead a couple years back. But if the goal is getting to the Super Bowl -- and I assume that is indeed the goal in Nashville -- do the Titans have the quarterback room to make a realistic push?
Previous rank:*No. 21*
If the Joe Flacco experiment is going to work in Denver, the quarterback will need Emmanuel Sanders. There was real question about what the 32-year-old wide receiver would bring to the table this summer after having surgery last December to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The severity of the injury and Sanders' age (along with the news -- revealed in August -- that he also underwent ankle surgery this offseason) have combined to justifiably raised doubts as to whether he'll ever be the Pro Bowl receiver he was in his younger years. But the reports out of Broncos camp were glowing, and Sanders flashed familiar playmaking ability in his lone preseason performance (SEE: 19-yard run vs. the 49ers). His presence brings depth and stability to a receiving corps that desperately needs both. Sanders was in the middle of another productive campaign before his injury; despite missing the final month of 2018, he led the team in catches (71), yards (868) and receiving touchdowns (4).
Previous rank:*No. 22*
It will be interesting to see how the Jets deploy running back Ty Montgomery in the season's early weeks. Le'Veon Bell is obviously the backfield centerpiece in New York, but he also hasn't played a down of real football in 20 months. Bell is sure to be a touch monster in time, but don't be surprised if Montgomery's role is significant in September. He's looked very comfortable in Adam Gase's offense this summer, and like Bell, he offers versatility with his ability as a runner and receiver. One issue that will be an obstacle for both Bell and Montgomery: The Jets' starting offensive line -- which includes offseason additions Kelechi Osemele and Ryan Kalil -- will enter the regular season having not played a single snap together as a group. This could be trouble against an imposing Bills front seven in Week 1.
Previous rank:*No. 23*
Tim Graham of The Athletic wrote a great piece last week on Josh Allen's incredible arm strength and how Bills receivers manage to survive practice with their digits intact. For some perspective, NFL scouting service OurLads has Allen throwing the fastest ball since they started tracking the data each year at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2008 -- 62 miles per hour! Of course, it takes more than a howitzer to succeed in the NFL. Allen must master the art of touch. But in general, it feels like his fascinating skill set flies under the radar a bit. The quarterback who can throw the ball harder and further than anyone also led his team in rushing last year. The Bills are such a fun wild card to track this season, and Allen is the biggest reason why.
Previous rank:*No. 24*
Niners fans nearly tipped over their Chardonnay with the deep exhale that followed San Francisco's third preseason game. Jimmy Garoppolo successfully put his miserable performance against the Broncos behind him, looking sharp and moving well on his surgically repaired knee against the Chiefs. Unfortunately, not everyone was invited to the Happy Knee Party. Running back Jerick McKinnon, signed last year to be a Swiss Army Knife-style attack piece in Kyle Shanahan's offense, is headed back to injured reserve after another setback with his surgically repaired knee. McKinnon's Niners tenure has been one extended bummer, but the team has a sneaky Making The Leap candidate in third-year man Matt Breida. Don't be surprised to see Breida finish in the top 10 in all-purpose yardage this season.
Previous rank:*No. 25*
As the official "Hard Knocks" recap guy for NFL.com (hold for applause), I've spent the last four weeks fascinated by Derek Carr and his place on this Raiders team. But if you hoped to learn more about the relationship between Carr and head coach Jon Gruden through premium cable, the show has created more questions than answers. Carr certainly seems like a nice guy -- potentially a really nice guy -- but is that what Gruden is looking for in his quarterback? Oh, who am I kidding? Carr could be a terrible guy and Gruden would be fine with it if the quarterback could recapture his 2016 magic. And that's where the intrigue comes in: Carr has both his health and some playmakers to work with in 2019, including that Antonio Brown guy. Carr and Gruden might not be a personality match, but that won't matter if Carr slings it this year.
Previous rank:*No. 26*
The Lions narrowly avoided disaster in their third preseason game, when starting inside linebacker Jarrad Davis and starting center Frank Ragnow got rolled up on and suffered lower-leg injuries against the Bills. Isn't preseason great, guys? Both Davis and Ragnow were diagnosed with ankle sprains, injuries that aren't season-ending. Phew. Meanwhile, I don't want to sound hyperbolic here, but I'm calling Week 1 against the Cardinals a MUST-WIN. I know that sounds crazy, but check out the Lions' six-week stretch after their road opener in Arizona: vs. Chargers, at Eagles, vs. Chiefs, bye week, at Packers, vs. Vikings. That's a gauntlet, and it would behoove Detroit to enter that stretch at 1-0.
Previous rank:*No. 27*
Daniel Jones' preseason line: 29-for-34 passing for 416 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Good on Danny Dimes, who caught a lot of unnecessary and unfair criticism after the Giants "reached" to take the former Duke star with the sixth overall pick. And here's the thing: Jones still could very well end up being a reach by Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, but the Twitter know-it-alls ( and you, too, Baker) were insufferable during the spring and summer. With four strong preseason performances, Jones shut his critics up ... for the time being, anyway. Now we'll see how long Eli Manning can hold off the kid. My prediction for Jones' first start and the official passing of the torch at the Meadowlands: Week 7 against the Cardinals.
Previous rank:*No. 28*
I'm struggling to see a plan for the Redskins with this Trent Williams situation. Reports indicate the star left tackle is effectively done with the franchise. If he doesn't want to play for you anymore, why not move him to a team willing to hand over precious draft capital to acquire an elite blind-side protector, like the Texans just did for Laremy Tunsil? Team president Bruce Allen said last week that he expects Williams to play for the 'Skins this season, but this still has the feel of an all-defeating standoff. Meanwhile, veteran Donald Penn is slated to start the season at left tackle. Penn has the pedigree, but the 36-year-old has been in decline for some time now. It's fair to say the Redskins have boxed themselves into a corner on this one. It's not too late to get out!
Previous rank:*No. 29*
Two players to be very excited about in Tampa this season: wide receiver Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard. Godwin followed his breakout 2018 season (842 yards, seven touchdowns) with a well-reviewed training camp and productive preseason with Jameis Winston. Could he catch 80-plus balls and become a 1,200-yard receiver under Bruce Arians? Don't bet against it. Howard, meanwhile, was enjoying an extremely promising sophomore season before foot and ankle injuries shut him down in November. Expect him to pick up right where he left off. The Bucs aren't a perfect team, but they are going to score points. If Todd Bowles can coach up that D, Tampa Bay could surprise some people.
Previous rank:*No. 30*
If it wasn't for bad luck, the Bengals would have no luck at all. It's been a summer of dispiriting injuries for Cincinnati, who learned Friday that rookie running back Rodney Anderson re-tore his ACL in the preseason finale against the Colts. It's the same ACL he tore early in his final season at Oklahoma, an injury that played a big role in him falling to the Bengals in the sixth round of this year's draft. Cincinnati has a bell-cow back in Joe Mixon and a change-of-pace option in Giovani Bernard, but Anderson was a promising piece who flashed in his preseason debut against the Giants. What a shame. He joins a Bengals injury list that includes A.J. Green (out indefinitely, ankle), and first-round pick Jonah Williams (likely to miss season, shoulder). Hang in there, Bengals fans.
Previous rank:*No. 31*
We're almost here now. Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are about to make their NFL debuts running an offense that will look nothing like the vanilla schemes the team put on display during the preseason. There's plenty of reason for optimism, but not everyone is buying. "They're going to get whipped Week 1," said former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Rex Ryan. "Look, this guy (Kingsbury) -- everyone talks about this great offense and all that. Yeah, if it's fantasy football and you want points yardage, that's great. How about wins?" Ryan might be a loudmouth, but he always knew how to coach ball on defense. You wonder if other like-minded coaches in the NFL are studying Kingsbury's college scheme with a confident grin. Let the games begin.
Previous rank:*No. 32*
The Dolphins got a lot worse over the weekend -- but that was part of the plan. The idea here is that a complete teardown in the short-term allows this once-proud franchise to return to prominence in the 2020s. The Fins put their youth movement into overdrive -- trading away standout left tackle Laremy Tunsil, leading receiver Kenny Stills and former starting linebacker Kiko Alonso. According to ESPN, Miami will enter Week 1 with 30 players on the roster who are 25 years old or younger, including 13 rookies. Will the young players remaining on the roster form a core? And can the Dolphins' front office be trusted with an embarrassment of draft riches? Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is like the substitute teacher in charge of a class that knows he's not around for long.