The long-awaited return of the National Football League can mean only one thing: power rankings. Fans have not seen game action in over seven months, and the excitement is palpable. Without a preseason to prove otherwise, every team is in contention for the Super Bowl this year. And honestly, the way 2020 has unfolded so far, any team truly could win it all.
Our initial rankings will factor in last year’s results, off-season moves (good and bad), and a touch of the unpredictable. This is the NFL, after all. Without further ado, let’s unveil the list:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have a dearth of playmakers on their roster. Their once-vaunted defense has been sold off bit by bit. Unless Gardner Minshew can work some magic this year, both he and head coach Doug Marrone could find themselves out of a job in 2021.
31. Washington Football Team
Washington actually has a nice trio of young players to build around, in quarterback Dwayne Haskins, wide receiver Terry McLaurin, and defensive end Chase Young. Those three former Ohio State Buckeyes cannot undo decades of organizational ineptitude and a tumultuous off-season, however. Obviously, we all wish nothing but a swift return to health for head coach Ron Rivera after his cancer diagnosis last month.
30. Los Angeles Chargers
“Hard Knocks,” indeed. The Chargers lost star safety Derwin James to a season-ending injury during training camp, and any optimism for this season likely went down with him. Journeyman Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback, but how long will he hold off first-round pick Justin Herbert?
29. Cincinnati Bengals
The good news is that Cincinnati will be much better than it was last year. The bad news is that it was awful last year, so even modest improvement only helps so much. At least Joe Burrow will be the franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future.
28. New York Giants
The Giants are set up for a bright future with quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. They needed to address their porous offensive line and anemic defense in the off-season, and they did. Expect big things for New York in a few years, just not in 2020.
27. New York Jets
Sam Darnold could finally turn the corner and lead his team to glory now that he has rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton blotting out the sun and/or protecting his blindside. Darnold’s weapons aren’t the greatest, however, and head coach Adam Gase has a long history of getting in his own way.
26. Chicago Bears
Mitch Trubisky won the training camp competition against veteran Nick Foles for the starting quarterback position. While that is certainly encouraging for Bears fans, they may start clamoring for Foles as soon as Trubisky shows signs of struggle. Such quarterback controversies are rarely conducive to team success.
25. Carolina Panthers
It’s a fresh start in Charlotte, as new head coach Matt Rhule signed Teddy Bridgewater to be his starting quarterback. However, Bridgewater has started only six games since his Pro Bowl campaign in 2015. Worse yet is Rhule’s record as a first-year coach; he went 2-10 in his inaugural season at Temple and 1-11 in his debut at Baylor. In other words, 2020 could be a forgettable year for the Panthers.
24. Miami Dolphins
Miami, like Cincinnati, will be greatly improved from 2019. They also have their quarterback of the future in Tua Tagovailoa. Whether he starts a game sooner or later depends largely on the play of placeholding starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Head coach Brian Flores is improving this team, and they may not be AFC East doormats for long.
23. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan will need to play at or near MVP level for the Falcons to return to the playoffs this year. Of course, Ryan has done that once before–in 2016 when he won that award and led his team to a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. What happened next is something that will haunt Falcons fans forever. Sorry for bringing that up, Falcons fans.
22. Denver Broncos
Drew Lock showed promise in his five games as a starter last season, and he should thoroughly enjoy throwing the ball to both Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy in 2020. Von Miller is now on the wrong side of 30, but he can still wreak havoc the way he used to. Denver could be a surprise playoff contender come December.
21. Los Angeles Rams
Not long ago, the Rams were tied at the end of three quarters in Super Bowl LIII. Since then, little has gone according to plan. To return to championship contention, Sean McVay will need to prove he can still run his explosive offense against a 6-2 defense (used by the Patriots in their Super Bowl victory and borrowed by many teams thereafter). Additionally, Jared Goff will need to prove he can carry the team when the threat of a running game is missing.
20. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield is playing for his third head coach in three years. Can Kevin Stefanski succeed where Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens have failed? If he can direct Cleveland’s talented young roster with a singular focus, things may finally be looking up along the banks of Lake Erie.
19. Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray looked like every bit of the superstar Arizona expected when they drafted him first overall in 2019. Now, with versatile defender Isaiah Simmons on the other side of the ball, the Cardinals could make a push for postseason play in the ultra-competitive NFC West. A tough schedule may be their undoing, though.
18. Detroit Lions
Matt Patricia needs Matthew Stafford to stay healthy to keep his job in the Motor City. Before missing the second half of 2019 due to injury, Stafford had a nearly four-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Lions need an improved pass rush to even think about challenging for a division title, but their sneaky good draft class could prove invaluable as the year goes on.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders’ first season in Sin City will be entertaining, if nothing else. Josh Jacobs was a revelation as a rookie last year, and the offense will lean on him while figuring out who the quarterback should be. Derek Carr will get first dibs, but Marcus Mariota is waiting in the wings. Will Jon Gruden embrace full-on 2020 chaos and trot out Nathan Peterman at some point? Place your bets.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick pushed the Steelers to eight wins last year, even without Ben Roethlisberger for the majority of the season. Mike Tomlin has done an excellent job of maintaining Pittsburgh’s defensive identity, but Roethlisberger and the offense will determine if this team can return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles rode a stellar pass rush and dynamic quarterback play to a Super Bowl title three years ago. Last season’s Eagles gave up way too many big plays and were roughly average in most defensive categories. Yet the team’s first two draft picks were on the offensive side, in receiver Jalen Reagor and quarterback Jalen Hurts, so perhaps their plan is to outscore everyone en route to another NFC East title.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota has been consistently good under head coach Mike Zimmer: earning playoff berths in three of his six seasons–twice as division champs–and never winning fewer than seven games. All signs point to another winning season, although Kirk Cousins will undoubtedly miss throwing to Stefon Diggs, who is now a Buffalo Bill.
13. Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are arguably the best individual offensive and defensive players in the AFC South, respectively. Unfortunately for those two, they may be asked to carry their team through thick and thin if Houston wants to return to the postseason. Bill O’Brien makes some questionable decisions both in games and in managing the team’s personnel. As a result, Watson and Watt could use some help to win the AFC South again in 2020.
12. Tennessee Titans
The Titans knocked off defending champions New England, top overall seed Baltimore, and led Kansas City late in the first half before seeing their Cinderella playoff run snuffed out in the AFC championship game. In order to get back to the dance, rookie Isaiah Wilson will need to replace departed right tackle Jack Conklin, Ryan Tannehill must reward Tennessee’s faith in him as a viable starter, and newly-signed Jadeveon Clowney has to create a formidable pass rush on defense. Oh, Derrick Henry breaking numerous 90-yard touchdown runs will help, too.
11. Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South should be tightly contested in 2020, with Houston, Tennessee, and Indianapolis duking it out for divisional supremacy all year long. The Colts get the early edge, though, thanks to the arrival of Philip Rivers and DeForest Buckner, both of whom will have huge impacts in a young but talented locker room. Rodrigo Blankenship will also replace Adam Vinatieri at kicker, who missed eight field goals and six extra points in only 12 games last season.
10. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers‘ championship window is likely closing, and the Packers drafted his potential successor in the first round, Utah State’s Jordan Love. Preston and Za’Darius Smith (no relation) will once again apply pressure on the outside. Green Bay’s blowout loss to San Francisco in the NFC championship game proved that in order to win another title with Rodgers at the helm, the Packers will need to run the ball and stop the run more effectively.
9. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen improved as a passer in his second season, and the Bills won 10 games for the first time since 1999, when Allen was three years old. In 2020, Allen will have Stefon Diggs on the outside, which should only help expedite his growth and development. Defensive-minded Sean McDermott has performed admirably as the head coach in Buffalo, and he may have his team in line for a division title this year…
8. New England Patriots
…to do so, of course, Buffalo will need to dethrone New England, which has seemingly dominated the AFC East since the dawn of time. This year, though, head coach Bill Belichick will have to win without quarterback Tom Brady, who moved to Florida like so many other men of a certain age. Belichick still has a stifling secondary led by Stephon Gilmore. If Cam Newton can stay healthy and master Josh McDaniels’ offense, the Patriots will once again be in contention for a Lombardi Trophy.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The great “chicken or egg” dilemma may finally be solved this year, at least in football terms. Were the Patriots great because they had Bill Belichick on the sidelines, or were they great because they had Tom Brady at quarterback? Bruce Arians is betting on the latter, and his hope is that Brady can elevate a team that went 7-9 last season despite Jameis Winston tossing 30 (!) interceptions. Shaq Barrett, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin should all continue their stellar play in 2020.
6. Dallas Cowboys
Mike McCarthy brings a Super Bowl ring to Dallas from his time at the helm in Green Bay. If he wants to add another in Big D, he will need to create more turnovers on defense. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper put up huge numbers offensively. The Cowboys’ defense didn’t always hold up their end of the bargain, finishing in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories and forcing only 17 turnovers in 16 games. McCarthy should get this team into the playoffs at the very least. What they do from there is anyone’s guess.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Will Pete Carroll finally #LetRussCook? Seattle’s 12th Man has created a trending hashtag on Twitter after years of watching a conservative, run-heavy offense for three quarters before Russell Wilson leads his team to victory in a wild fourth quarter finish. The Seahawks were a goal-line tackle away from winning the NFC West last season, and they should still be right at the top of the league in 2020. Newly-acquired safety Jamal Adams will help solidify Carroll’s defense, but the team’s success will be contingent upon Wilson’s cooking, as per usual.
4. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees already has his retirement plans wrapped up. The superstar quarterback agreed to join NBC in the broadcast booth when his playing days are done. Whether that is after the 2020 season or beyond is still up for debate. The Saints have gone 37-11 the last three years, and they would surely love to send Brees off into the sunset as a two-time Super Bowl champ.
3. San Francisco 49ers
A young quarterback on a team-friendly contract? Check. An innovative play-caller whose offense often seems unstoppable? Check. A smothering defense that can stop the run and the pass equally well? Checkmate. San Francisco had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. They failed to close the deal. That fact alone should motivate this team through its first several games of 2020. Injuries could become a concern, but this roster is loaded across the board.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson was named NFL MVP last year after leading his team to a 14-2 record and making professional defenders look like adolescent flag football players. The Ravens added a spectacular draft class to build on 2019’s success, and on paper, there appears to be a sizable gap between Baltimore and the rest of the AFC North. They do have a challenging 2020 schedule, but Jackson and Co. could very well be hoisting the Lombardi when all is said and done.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
If you win the Super Bowl, you start the next season on top of the power rankings. Simple as that. If you have Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and an offensive mastermind calling the shots in Andy Reid…well, you might just find yourself winning another Super Bowl. Frankly, the Chiefs can score at will, and they look to dominate the NFL for years to come.