Skip to main content

Power Rankings

Presented By

NFL Preseason Power Rankings: Concerns for Cowboys, Ravens

The passage of Hall of Fame weekend means the onset of the preseason -- and our first real Power Rankings of the 2017 season.

The Cardinals and Cowboyskicked off preseason action last Thursday. This week, the rest of the league starts playing. That's why I put out an updated edition of the Power Rankings at this time every year. Call it a final snapshot before everyone involved in this industry starts basing opinions off ONfield news.

Before we get to the NFL preseason pyramid of success, I want to acknowledge the top three things I noticed during the week in Canton:

3) Whoever runs Sour Patch Kids needs to hire Terrell Davis' kids.
2) Jimmy Johnson's Hall of Fame possibility turned into an immediate probability (deservedly).
1)LaDainian Tomlinson's speech was indeed splendid. So passionate -- which is how the guy played.

Matthias checks in from Austria.

Matt checks in from Daytona.

Both of Johnson's former teams take a dip in the pecking order below, thanks to looming uncertainty on each front. As for the rest, take a gander. Your take is more than welcome at the usual place: @HarrisonNFL.

Now, let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our post-free agency Power Rankings.

News story that slipped under the radar: Tom Brady turned 40. And while we're at it, enough with the avocado ice cream insults. The same folks who make fun of Brady all the time probably have never won anything in their life, and are standing in line for their double blast caramel macchiato at Starbucks while they are tweeting about Brady's healthy choices. What's really important? Gronk's health, Brandin Cooks' assimilation to the offense and Stanley Morgan getting into the Hall of Fame discussion.

Not budging on the Falcons. People want me to drop them because of two reasons: 1) The Super Bowl hangover, which, if you heard Aqib Talib's comments last week, is real. And 2) Steve Sarkisian taking over the offensive command from Kyle Shanahan. Again, fair. Atlanta also added pieces to the front seven in free agency and has more young talent than any of the elite teams. Like Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell, Taylor Gabriel and Tevin Coleman, to name a few.

If you play fantasy or opine on the occasional mutterings from head coach Mike McCarthy, then you probably think Ty Montgomery is going to put Marshall Faulk to shame this year. Tap the brakes, turbo. Don't sleep on rookie Jamaal Williams, who's already getting some first-team reps. In truth, though, with so much focus on Montgomery's acclimation to the offense, too little attention has been paid to the secondary. That's the group that killed this team in Washington and nearly lost a massive lead in Dallas. Injuries, inexperience and a few deep balls were all to blame. With one more year under the collective belt, and the ascending play of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the whole team should benefit. Gonna miss Micah Hyde, the human Swiss Army knife, though.

Hearing bigly things about Marshawn Lynch at Raiders camp, while Oakland can make a case against any of the teams immediately below. Much like Atlanta, there are league observers who wonder about the shift in offensive philosophy, post-Bill Musgrave. The other side of the ball has been problematic for Jack Del Rio, save for an abysmal playoff game at NRG Stadium. Still, you don't want to overreact to an unwatchable postseason game in Houston. The Texans did that with Brian Hoyer, then spent Derek Carr-type money on Brock Osweiler. We saw how that worked out. One last thought: Mario Edwards Jr. being healthy could loom large for this team, albeit under the radar.

Steelers fans are far too classy to admit this ... but ... tell me they aren't happy that there's suspension talk swirling around a star running back -- and it's not Le'Veon Bell. Word. Maybe Pittsburgh still doesn't win the AFC championship, even with a healthy Bell. OK, but I feel people miss what a spectacular season he put together. The dude averaged -- AVERAGED -- more than 150 yards per game. The defense still carries a few concerns. Once thought to be a key figure for the future, third-year player Senquez Golson got hurt. Again. You work so hard to reach a lifetime goal, then can't enjoy or build on it when you get there. It sucks royally.

Yes. Giants over Cowboys. For now. The right side of the offensive line is a concern, as is the running game. Well, the Seahawks don't prioritize their offensive line. The Cowboys' defense -- namely those who aren't suspended or in trouble with the law -- can't compete with either team. All three are more set at quarterback than the Chiefs. Therein lies the explanation for New York at sixth. The air game could be an air raid, if Eli Manning plays like he did in 2014 and '15, rather than last year's so-so campaign. Weapons? Many.

Amidst the Jay Cutler headshots, Zeke Elliott non-news stories and Hall of Fame speech timers, a small NFL trade was missed. Not shocking. The Seahawks acquired D.J. Alexander, a special teams ace in K.C. who will help Pete Carroll keep the Seahawks' M.O.: Give Seattle's opponents flat nothing on the special teams front, then, with said opponents dealing with oft-poor field position, trot a defense out there that has allowed fewer than two touchdowns and a field goal per game over the last five years. It works, apparently. And if Big Ed runs the clock ...

UPDATE: The NFL announced Friday it has suspended Ezekiel Elliott for the first six games of the 2017 season.

 Cowboys fans anxiously await an 
 Ezekiel Elliott 
 ruling to come down, one way or another. And the secondary is still a concern, with 
 Blaine Gabbert burning a couple of starters and 
 Anthony Brown burning a hamstring -- all of which plays second fiddle to Jerry Jones' 
 deserved enshrinement. Although I was in Canton this weekend, I didn't go to his 
 now-famous celebration bash, complete with Jerryism napkins and Justin Timberlake. (I heard J.T. opened with "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.") Jones was entertaining 
 in his speech and received much respect from all the Hall of Famers who made the trip. Most important to Dallas fans, by a mile: J.J. gave credit where credit was due -- to the other J.J. Hats off, Jimmy Johnson. 

We haven't visited the Chiefs in the Power Rankings since the ouster of GM John Dorsey. And while that might not affect their current standing here too much, it is fair to ponder the direction of the operation, considering the success Kansas City has enjoyed over the last few years. One opposing front office exec told the Kansas City Star that he was "shocked" by the divorce, saying Dorsey had built the "top-to-bottom best roster in the league."

Moving along ... After spending the week in Canton and talking to a number of senior voters, I can tell you that more former Chiefs came up than alums of any other franchise. The list of serious candidates we discussed included Johnny Robinson, Otis Taylor and Deron Cherry. Robinson is the only player to lead both the AFL and NFL in interceptions. It's bull#%$* more former K.C. stars are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among modern era candidates, Albert Lewis receives no love -- but he was a top-shelf player for a looooong time.

Tampa-ites ... Tampa Bay-ans ... (???) ... are pumped for this year's edition. If only it was 1982 again, and you could order Doug Williams PJs from the Sears catalogue. The creamsicle unis might be gone, but the Bucs do have a franchise quarterback. Coupled with an ascending defense sprinkled with young playmakers (SEE: Alexander, Kwon), Tampa Bay should challenge for the NFC South crown. The worry was, is and remains running back. Thinking Doug Martin will emerge once again, but I can't crawl inside Dirk Koetter's head, either. Jacquizz?

There are two things worth knowing about the Titans that hover over every team in the AFC South: Tennessee is the steadiest outfit, with no GM, head coaching or major personnel losses. They have the best healthy quarterback in the division. Now, throw in an accomplished wideout in Eric Decker who, uh, slightly upgraded his work environment this offseason, and you are looking at the 2017 AFC South champs. Until Andrew Luck riddles the secondary for 385 and three tugs in Week 6 or 12. Sorry. Go with the previous sentence.

Sitting in the press box at the Hall of Fame Game, myriad thoughts flooded the football brain. 1) The Cardinals are returning to the postseason (although I worry about the D-line). 2) The right CB position has been discussed more by fans and media than all the other 31 teams combined. 3) Former Cards great Charley Trippi is the oldest living Hall of Famer and NEVER gets mentioned. 4) I wonder if Bruce Arians ever saw "Star Trek IV." It's the one where Kirk and Spock saved the whales. 5) Really liked the Chris Johnson signing. It's a smidge of David Johnson insurance, with a touch of LaDainian Tomlinson's stop with the Jets.

All eyes might be on the Lions if Ameer Abdullah's foot can hold up, while the persistent Matthew Stafford contract news, sans a deadline, drags on with the fervor of Tim Tebow baseball updates. Under all that noise is the status of the offensive line. Thought to be the strong point of Jim Caldwell's ball club, the injury to Taylor Decker threw some Honolulu waves at the hopes of winning the NFC North. Right now, former bust Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio are battling for the former first-round pick's spot. Get excited.

Can't wait to see Deshaun Watson play. What could possibly be cooler for Texans fans? J.J. Watt and J.D. Clowney on the same field at the same time. Add a dash of Whitney Mercilus, and I wouldn't be waiting until the 14th round of your fantasy draft to take Houston's D. It's a group littered with first- and second-round picks, and one that finished first in fewest yards allowed without Watt. While we're here: rookie RB D'Onta Foreman will surprise a few folks this year.

Things just got weird. Before we get to the advent of Jay, let's review: Ryan Tannehill didn't have surgery in the offseason. Truly not that many people noticed. Then, he tweaked his knee, and suddenly everyone had an opinion, including a medical opinion. Even Tannehill, a former pre-med student at Texas A&M, took a few social media lumps for wanting to be part of the process. Then, a four-year-old pic of Colin Kaepernick holding a Dolphins hat emerged on Twitter. (Please submerge it now. Thanks.) After all that non-enjoyment came the will he/won't he Jay Cutler rumors. (Is he shouldn't an option? It's not.) Cutler is now a Miami Dolphin. So where does this all end up? Where it did last year, with Matt Moore pinch-hitting, trying to get the Dolphins into the postseason. (Remember, Cutler hasn't logged a 16-game season since 2009. And he's consistently inconsistent.)

Given Greg Manusky's aggressive approach, Washington should get after the quarterback in 2017. With Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy at Manusky's disposal, don't anticipate the Redskins laying back in a vanilla defense hoping the rush makes QBs a wee bit fidgety. In the NFC East, Washington will need to force the issue with up-and-coming passers Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, and given all the weapons in the Giants' passing game, pressuring Eli Manning is a must. Manusky's group might make the difference -- for better or worse -- in the division race.

Practice reports at the start of Broncos camp didn't exactly detail quarterbacking on par with John Elway and Craig Morton. One week later, Siemian appears to have taken the lead over Paxton Lynch -- though no one's decisively pulled away yet. As such, the Broncos are still the headless horsemen, a premier defense coupled with an offense that lacks a playoff-caliber quarterback. Unfortunately, even the defense has been weakened, with the news that Shane Ray will be out awhile. Perhaps Paxton Lynch will emerge, and Denver's defense can pull off the 18.5-points-per-game trick again. But how much can the offense score?

The Vikes win the unrankable award for this preseason exercise. Are they "10 wins" good? Do they suck? Will Sam Bradford attempt a pass farther than 5 yards beyond his center's helmet? Will Teddy Bridgewater make it back this year? Heck, will he ever play for Minnesota again? Will Laquon Treadwell catch more than one pass from either QB? We've got questions; nobody has answers. Now, that defense still owns the personnel to be top-five in points allowed. Can't wait to see what Danielle Hunter produces this season.

Saw training camp video of Christian McCaffrey on "Total Access" Monday night. The dude is ripped and appears more than ready to carry the load in 2017. That's right: Michael Bennett might have to reassess his White Running Back Power Rankings. McCaffrey brings a versatile skill set that significantly upgrades the explosiveness of this Panthers offense. That said, Jonathan Stewart is one of the best power backs of the last 30 years. Head coach Ron Rivera insists his role won't change. Carolina should be able to grind out the clock and relieve the enormous burden Cam Newton consistently carries for this offense.

We're seven months removed from the Eagles' last game and three weeks into training camp, and I don't think anyone knows what the Eagles running game looks like. That dimension is part of what made Doug Pederson's offense tick in his three seasons as offensive coordinator in Kansas City. We think LeGarrette Blount will likely be the man, but he's 30, hasn't stepped on the scales yet and, unlike last year, won't be playing defenses so focused on the quarterback. Ryan Mathews is still hanging around. We assume he will be cut after he passes a physical so the Eagles can save money, but stranger stuff has happened with this organization. The more Pederson plays either back, or rookie Donnel Pumphrey, or this year's TCHOFer Wendell Smallwood, the less we'll see of his most effective player from last season: Darren. Sproles.

Much hand-wringing going on regarding Andrew Luck's health. Back in June, I told my colleagues on NFL Network to calm down about Luck not throwing. Well, it ain't June anymore, and he still isn't chucking the football around. The hope for the Colts is that the defense will be improved enough that Luck won't have to press constantly ... leaving the pocket to take on a linebacker ... holding the ball a second or three too long ... stuff of that nature. New GM Chris Ballard worked hard to retool the defense in both free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft, but methinks it will take another year of similar effort before Indy's D is where it needs to be.

The Saints will be better -- as long as they don't lose another offensive lineman (or D-lineman, for that matter), in which case New Orleans will go 7-9 again. The good news here is that there is no way the defense is allowing 28 points per game again. If the Saints can even play almost-respectably on that side of the ball, they will compete for a wild-card spot. You know, like maybe if they allow just 25 points per game so that Drew Brees only has to throw for four touchdowns every Sunday instead of five.

Not feeling comfortable with the Bengals moving up? Me neither. But with the Ravens rolling with Ryan Mallett instead of youknowwho (for now), and the Chargers' injury rate hovering around one player per hour, Cincy climbs. The perception of Vontaze Burfict certainly took a hit after that "Blair Witch" quality video of him hitting Giovani Bernard "low" surfaced. Looked like a clean tackle ... save for the infinitely small detail that it was a non-tackling drill. The Marvin Lewis lack-of-team-discipline narrative won't go away until discipline shows up. Using the word "narrative" in sports apparently isn't going away, either. My bad.

The Chargers are the football world's sleeper team. They're still sleeping. Few teams are strong enough, roster-wise, to lose their first- and second-round picks with no sour aftertaste. Mike Williams' injury smelled off before the first bite. Someone had to know before he was drafted that this back problem could be IR-worthy, right? Tyrell Williams is a nice piece, much in the same way Terrance Williams is in Dallas. Neither is a WR1, though. The Bolts' No. 1, Keenan Allen, missed nearly all of last season ... as did the other 20 guys who ended up on IR. Ugh.

GM Brandon Beane hasn't been at the new gig for very long, but that was a heckuva move to acquire Anquan Boldin on Monday. The veteran wideout is 36, but don't worry, he hasn't been fast for 10 years. Boldin's greatest asset is being open when he's covered, i.e., being able to catch the ball in traffic. Last year in Detroit, he was third in red-zone targets (22) and second in red-zone yards (106). He also caught eight touchdown passes. Annnd I am still wondering why the Lions didn't re-sign him. Their loss, man.

While reeling over the decision to rank the Jaguars over the Ravens, I reminded myself that all would be OK. After all, while Blake Bortles tosses a gaggle of training camp picks, Ryan Mallett is a man who can keep up with that torrid pace. Jacksonville's defense does look stout on paper, and word out of practice is there is much to be enthusiastic about there. The talented Leonard Fournette will start Day 1. Thus, some college-level Football Algebra is in order: defense plus ground attack minus turnovers = X wins.

Head coach Sean McVay has all but gushed about Todd Gurley's running this summer. Don't blame him. While the quarterback/passing-game situation is still in flux, there can be no doubt that McVay and staff will create new avenues for their stud RB to produce. One such avenue will be behind veteran Andrew Whitworth. Besides being All-Pro caliber, the well-over-30-year-old still has quick enough feet.

No Joe Flacco right now. Timetable for return: Unknown. No one is (publicly) freaking out yet, but if Ryan Mallett's at the helm in the regular season, you might not be able to slip a credit card under Breshad Perriman's ascension. The addition of Jeremy Maclin won't mean diddly-poo unless Mallett improves -- or, as a colleague put it, "If he gets his head out of the clouds." While Mallett's attitude in Houston raised questions during a nationally televised game versus the Colts a couple seasons back, there are few questions regarding his raw talent.

Heard Cameron Meredith's tearing it up in training camp. Heard Mark Sanchez isn't. What makes the Bears' passing game intriguing this year is the onslaught of all the newbies. Bear in mind, neither Mike Glennon, Mitchell Trubisky nor Sanchez were in Chicago last season. Thus, the whole quarterback room is new, and not well-versed in Dowell Loggains' offense. Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz have caught a lot of NFL passes -- Cruz was a bona fide star in NYC -- but they're also getting oriented in Chi Town. Defensively, Chicago might have itself a budding star in Leonard Floyd, a guy DC Vic Fangio said could be "a damn good player."

Didn't get as much pushback as expected on my bold prediction for Brian Hoyer (4,000 yards passing). Maybe y'all are hip to my thinking. Remember, Kyle Shanahan wanted Brian Hoyer in free agency. On Monday night's episode of " Training Camp Primetime," NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport detailed how well Hoyer knows Shanahan's offense. (Defensive coaches are getting pretty frustrated with the QB's ability to complete passes against whatever they throw at him.) Another point worth leaving here: For all the hubbub around Jay Cutler's signing with Miami, don't forget that Hoyer clearly, clearly outplayed him in Chicago last season. His passer rating eclipsed Cutler's by 20 points. I know it's just the silly old passer rating, but come on.

Brock Lobster returns to the world's consciousness after receiving the starting nod for Cleveland's preseason opener. Osweiler says the Browns staff has made him a better player. Nowhere to go but up, considering he ranked 29th in passer rating out of the 30 QBs who qualified last season. (He beat Fitzpatrick! Yay!) What does this mean for DeShone Kizer? N'uch. Coming into camp, Kizer was not expected to be a Jedi Master, but rather the naive, golly shucks Luke Skywalker during the first half hour of "Star Wars: Episode IV." The nod to Osweiler, though, does speak to Cody Kessler not showing the coaching staff much.

This Quincy Enunwa deal really stinks. With the departures of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Enunwa was set to be the Jets' top target. The former sixth-round pick showed flashes last season (SEE: at Bills, vs. Patriots) and was entering a contract year.

On a lighter note -- well, make that a heavier and brighter note -- former D-line extraordinaire Joe Klecko might hear his name emerge from the Seniors Committee for the Hall of Fame at some point. From what I gathered via senior voters, Klecko -- who played at a Pro Bowl level at NT, DT and DE -- could be one of the nominees on the agenda at the next meeting of the minds. What about Al Toon?

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content