It's safe to say that the Around The NFL crew is drinking Kelly's Kool Aid-flavored smoothies. Sam Bradford is the most talented quarterback Kelly has worked with, and the trio of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles is easily the best in the league. The front seven on defense quietly looks excellent. The Eagles can hit you with pace and talent. It's not all about the scheme.
The Around The NFL team has previewed all 32 teams, with our predictions the result of a Power Poll from the six Around The NFL writers. Marc Sessler, Kevin Patra, Dan Hanzus, Conor Orr, Chris Wesseling and myself all voted on the best teams in the league from 1-32, and we averaged the results for the poll below.
Parity is overrated. We are squarely in an era of stable, power teams and it makes for a fascinating NFL. Seattle and Denver have been ranked as the top two teams in Football Outsiders' year-end DVOA for an unprecedented three years running. The Patriots have at least tied for first place in the AFC East for 14 straight seasons. The Packers are always one of the best teams in the league when Aaron Rodgers is healthy, and the Steelers now have an offense that matches their quarterback's talent.
The Seahawks and Packers are the two NFL teams where it would be truly stunning to see them miss the playoffs. Even a Jordy Nelson injury can't slow down a loaded offense and the best player in the league. Pittsburgh's youth movement on defense should help, while no team is better than the Patriots at recognizing weaknesses and improving them. They could start slow, but should be there by the end. It's strange that Peyton Manning is the biggest question in Denver; we're confident the defense and running game will be great. Andrew Luck is new early-2000s Manning, hoping that his defense can just be average.
The top two tiers are balanced, with nine AFC squads and eight from the NFC. It wouldn't be a surprise if any of the teams in this tier made the playoffs, but they feel like squads that will be battling to clinch until the final weekend. Chris Wesseling is leading the Lions bandwagon, believing that the offense should make strides with a healthy Calvin Johnson and the addition of rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. Detroit's prime competition for a wild card spot could be Arizona and Minnesota. It's hard to find a huge weakness with the Vikings and they have a lot of upside because of the return of Adrian Peterson. I worry about the Cardinals front seven being ordinary, but Carson Palmer is set up for a huge year if he gets modest protection.
The Saints are the only NFC South team to crack the top two tiers, and that's largely based on Drew Brees and the team's backfield. Offense is more predictable than defense, and it would be a surprise if Brees doesn't put up numbers again. The Saints' Week 1 game against Arizona is a fun early litmus test for two teams that could each give up 40 points. Dallas is the big loser in our poll. They haven't handled success well over the last 10 years and the expectations are sky high for a team that is expecting its offensive line to keep Tony Romo healthy and make mediocre running backs look like stars. On paper, the defense could make up for expected losses from the offense.
The Ravens and Dolphins earn our hypothetical wild card teams because of their balance. The Bengals defense is no longer special and they don't have a quarterback that can take advantage of all the talent around him. San Diego has a chance to be much better on defense and Philip Rivers keeps them a contender each year. Rex Ryan is hoping to turn a top-five defense into the best defense in the league in Buffalo. He has the talent to pull it off.
Tier of mediocrity
Andy Reid is trying to build something in Kansas City, but there's always going to be a concern that their ceiling is limited with Alex Smith behind center. The Falcons, Rams and Panthers are all better candidates to have sneaky playoff campaigns. Matt Ryan could have his best year under coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Panthers and Rams have the defensive talent to possibly make up for their offensive shortcomings.
If you paired the Giants offense with the Jets defense, you'd have the first New York team to win 10 games since 2010. But the Giants could have the worst defense in the league, and the Jets remain rudderless at quarterback. We loved watching the Texans on Hard Knocks a lot more than we'll love watching their offense on Sundays. The 49ers have a chance to make our preseason pessimism look silly. It's not that bad a roster despite all the offseason departures. A playoff season from any of the teams above should be considered a successful year.
The bottom of the league doesn't feel as bad as it was a year ago. The Titans and Jaguars have sneaky seven-win potential if they catch a few breaks and take care of their division games. The Raiders roster is undeniably better. The Browns' skill position talent is weak, yet the offensive line and defense includes many high-level players. My relative optimism ends with the Bears, Bucs and Redskins. It's hard to see any of them winning more than six games, but it's hard to see basically anything in the NFL ahead of time. This poll will look silly by Wednesday morning, much less after Week 4 when we revisit the Power Poll again.