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NFL season preview, Week 1 power rankings, part 2

I finish up my season preview just in time for the new season (this is the one the Lions are in come and click it).

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is back tonight! Today we complete our NFL preview and Week 1 previews, going over the teams in the bottom half of the league.

Part 1 is here

17. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys find them in an interesting spot. The retirement of Jason Witten, release of Dez Bryant and the potential long-term health concerns surrounding center Travis Frederick should be the signal of a period of transition for the team. On the other hand, Dak Prescott still may be the NFL’s most valuable contract, they may have the league’s best running back around for a full season this year with Ezekiel Elliot, and they still have sprinkles of talent spread throughout their defense. They’re currently in purgatory between entering a rebuilding phase or just attempting to role with the talent they have and hope to make the playoffs.

Any offense with Elliot behind what is still a decent offensive line is dangerous. Prescott had a rough end to his 2017 season, but he was also practically alone out there. Unfortunately, the Cowboys still don’t have much depth at receiver and without old reliable Witten around anymore the quarterback may be alone in the passing game once again.

The Cowboys have some talent on the defensive side on the ball but that talent needs to stay healthy. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith have potential to be the core of great linebackers but neither can stay on the field. Demarcus Lawrence is an elite defensive end and if Taco Charlton takes the next step this season they could be a nightmare duo for offensive lines. The secondary is filled with question marks but second year corner Chidobe Awuzie looks like a potential star.

The ceiling for Dallas is a wild card spot and their floor is probably a fringe top 10 draft pick. They have enough talent that they will definitely win some games, but probably not enough to be relevant contenders this season.

18. Detroit Lions

If you read this blog you know what I am going to say here. Matthew Stafford is an elite quarterback. Kerryon Johnson might be the real deal but we have burned by an early season rookie sensation in the past. The offensive line is good on paper but still haven’t shown it on the field. Marvin Jones Jr., Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay are scary and will be hard to cover.

The defense is a mess and no one not named Darius Slay, Glover Quin or Quandre Diggs really looks like they know what they are doing on a snap-to-snap basis. Stafford and the offense will win some games for Detroit this season but the defense will be the source of the eventual downfall.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs belong in the Texans/Lions/Steelers group of teams that will be really fun for neutrals to watch but hell for their fans.

A new Patrick Mahomes era begins and the offense may be as exciting as ever. The quarterback has a cannon attached to his shoulder and the perfect receiver in Tyreek Hill to catch his 60-yard bombs. Running back Kareem Hunt was the rushing champion in his first NFL season and with Spencer Ware back in action he can take on a smaller workload making it less likely that he has another mid-season slump. Sammy Watkins enters the fray and has a third chance to finally prove himself worth his draft hype from years ago. Their offensive line isn’t perfect but they are good enough to round out what will be one of the league’s best offenses.

Kansas City may have the worst defense in the NFL. Their front seven is only rivaled by the Lions in the competition to be the worst in the NFL. Their secondary does provide some intrigue, though. Kendall Fuller was a great nickel for Washington last season and is heading into the season as the best corner on the roster. Eric Berry returns from an Achilles injury he suffered Week 1 last year. Berry was one of the NFL’s best safeties before the injury, but Achilles injuries are the hardest to recover from and it is unsure whether or not he will be the elite defensive back he once was.

Mahomes was drafted out of the Texas Tech team that scored 40 points a game but didn’t bother to play any defense. It’s nice to see that the Chiefs are trying to recreate that team for him at the NFL level to help him really feel comfortable this season.

20. Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers have one of the best players in the NFL in Cam Newton and not much around him.

On offense Newton’s best receiving option is tight end Greg Olsen who missed much of the 2017 season with a foot injury. Beyond him they have 2017 top 10 pick Christian McCaffrey who was a third down running back that didn’t play many of the team’s third downs last season. Receiver Torrey Smith is a shell of his former self and Devin Funchess still hasn’t lived up to his billing. Rookie D.J. Moore could be an intriguing target for Newton but it’s hard to depend on a rookie to be a team’s best wide receiver. Their offensive line is an entire mess that forces Newton to use his power and athleticism as a runner on almost every snap. The offense will depend on their quarterback to drag them across the field all year and eventually that will prove to unsustainable.

Their defense features an elite middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and not much else. Julius Peppers has been in the NFL almost as long as I’ve been alive and while he still can perform he probably won’t be able to play regular snaps anymore. Kawann Short was a second-round pick five years ago and still has not shown anything to be excited about as an interior defensive lineman. The secondary that cost them their wild card game against the Saints last season got worse. Daryl Worley was traded to the Eagles then ended up on the Raiders and they will be depending on rookie Donte Jackson to take over a huge role in the secondary.

The Panthers have failed to put any sort of real help around their superstar quarterback. Newton is a generational talent that proved last season that he can carry his awful teammates but it isn’t realistic to expect him to do it again.

21. Chicago Bears

This is a fun one.

Chicago made the biggest move of the offseason when they dealt two first-round picks to the Raiders for former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and a second-round pick. Mack joins an already elite linebacking corps that features Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan and exciting rookie prospect Roquan Smith. They may have the best group of linebackers in the league. Akiem Hicks is one of the best interior pass penetrators around and rounds out a great front seven. Their secondary features a few players with potential in Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos and Kyle Fuller, but their defense’s back line isn’t anywhere near as talented as the guys in front of them.

Mitch Trubisky headlines an offense that may be one of the worst in the league. The quarterback didn’t show much to inspire confidence last season but the Bears are hoping that he can thrive under a new coaching staff. They revamped the receiving corps by adding Allen Robinson coming off of an ACL tear, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller are intriguing additions but neither will be more than average players this season. Their offensive line does not look that strong outside of Kyle Long, who’s had struggles staying healthy the past few season. The running back position gives Chicago the most to look forward to. Jordan Howard remains one of the league’s better bell cow backs and Tarik Cohen is a versatile weapon that they can line up virtually anywhere on the field.

Chicago has an elite front seven that can win games on their own at times. The rest of the roster looks shaky, though, and this team may get held back by their quarterback situation.

22. Seattle Seahawks

Last season represented a changing of the guard at the top of the NFC. As the younger, newer teams took over it meant that the perineal contenders fell, and boy did some of them fall hard.

The Seattle Seahawks are a shell of their former selves entering this season. Days of Marshawn Lynch rumbling down the field on one side of the ball and the Legion of Boom striking fear into the hearts of the opposition on the other are long gone. Quarterback Russell Wilson and receiver Doug Baldwin are the only real stand out players on offense. While the former may be one of the best players in the league the offensive line tasked with protecting him is still awful. They made an interesting move selecting running back Rashaad Penny in the first round of the draft but it may be 2017 seventh rounder Chris Carson taking on a majority of the load this season. While Carson does show promise the failures of the offensive line will end up hurting his production as well.

The Legion of Boom is a relic of the past on defense. Earl Thomas is the final member of the unit still around and although he finally ended his holdout, he’s not happy about it. Their secondary does not have much going for it at the moment and no one on their defensive line stands out either. There is some interest at linebacker, though. Bobby Wagner is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL and Shaquem Griffin—the one handed linebacker who tore up college football during UCF’s undefeated 2017 season—is set to start at outside linebacker.

Any team with a player as talented as Wilson on it has a chance to succeed, but they will need a historically great year from their quarterback to compete in a tough NFC.

23. New York Giants

I’m half convinced that New York Giants GM David Gettleman thinks he is building a fantasy football team. New York selected the electrifying Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in the draft last spring. Barkley joins an offense that already features the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram in the skill positions. While this team is probably really fun to use in Madden, it is hard to see how it will practically work for them.

Eli Manning is still the guy taking snaps from under center and he has been a below average quarterback for years now. The additions of Nate Solder and rookie Will Hernandez to the left side of the offensive line are intriguing but Ereck Flowers set to start at right tackle is still a huge concern for them. They have all of this talent on offense but no way to realistically get them the ball and protect them on a regular basis.

Their once vaunted defense is all but gone. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison is the only stand out player on a defensive that’s taken a huge step back over the past few seasons. The trade for linebacker Alec Ogletree made earlier this offseason makes little sense and he joins a linebacking corps with nothing to look forward to outside of Olivier Vernon. Their secondary used to be one of the best in the league, but that’s no longer the case either. Landon Collins is still one of the better safeties around but the corner back duo of Eli Applie and Janoris Jenkins doesn’t inspire as much confidence now as they did back in 2016.

It’s surprising how quickly a team that looked like potential Super Bowl contenders only two years ago fell so hard. Locker room issues, bad coaching and bad leadership from the front office have put the Giants in a terrible position in both the short and long term. This season may be the beginning of a dark era in New York.

24. Arizona Cardinals

Just like many of the other teams in this area of the power rankings the Arizona Cardinals have acquired a couple of elite talents and not done much to put a team around them.

David Johnson is the star of the offense. The running back missed nearly the entire 2017 season with a wrist injury but will hope to build on 2016 season where he put up a combined 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

Their quarterback position is intriguing. They drafted Josh Rosen early in the first round but will most likely sit him behind veteran signee Sam Bradford for as long as they need to. Bradford is a proven talent that has never been able to stay healthy. Rosen looked shaky in preseason, and it’s unsure what level of control he has of the offense in case he ends up being called upon early in the year. Their offensive line added a good player in guard Justin Pugh this offseason outside of him there is not much to protect their large investment into the quarterback position this season. Larry Fitzgerald is somehow still a reliable receivers but he and Johnson remain the only valuable receiving options on the team unless rookie Christian Kirk takes an unexpected year one leap.

Their defense doesn’t look very good entering this season but they have a few individual players that can make an impact. Chandler Jones has been largely overlooked by many fans since he left New England for the desert. He is a premier pass rusher that was even getting some DPOY attention last season. Age and injuries have stopped Patrick Peterson from being the playmaking corner that he once was but he still gives opposing quarterbacks something to worry about. Arizona will need two former first round picks in Robert Nkemdiche and Haason Reddick to take huge leaps this year if they want to have even an average defense because outside of their two stars their really isn’t much talent here.

25. Denver Broncos

It’s hard to believe that we are only two seasons removed from this team winning the Super Bowl.

Terrible draft picks and poor free agent signing have brought was one of the league’s elite teams to the bottom of the pyramid in only a few years. After the failed experiments with Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler it is now Case Keenum’s turn to try to replace Peyton Manning (yup, it’s that bad). Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are still good receivers but both have taken steps back in the post-Manning era. The offensive line is a mess, but the return of 2017 first-round pick Garret Bolles does give that unit something to look forward too. Between Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker don’t expect too much production from the running backs in Denver, though.

Their defense features a few interesting names but is still a shell of it’s 2015 self. Von Miller is still one of the best pass rushers around and the addition of rookie Bradley Chubb to the mix forms a fearsome duo. Brandon Marshall is still a good piece at linebacker but outside of that trio none of the remaining players on the front seven give you any reason to get excited. Bradley Roby will have big shoes to fill as he tries to replace Aqib Talib. The fourth year Ohio State product has proven his worth so far in his NFL career but is not nearly the shut down corner Talib was. Chris Harris has taken a step back the past couple of years but he joins Roby to join a formidable duo, and they will have to be because they are going to receive about zero help from their safeties this season.

Denver is a team that should be rebuilding. For some reason GM John Elway wants to keep this team in win now mode, though, and fans in the Mile High City are in for a turbulent couple of years.

26. Miami Dolphins

If you thought the Broncos didn’t know what they were doing wait till you see what the Dolphins are up to.

Their may not be a weirder collection of talent in the NFL than the current Miami Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill returns as a starting quarterback for the first time in over a year. Many fans were calling for the replacement of Tannehill while he was healthy and a long-term knee injury did nothing to help his case as a long-term starter on this team. They let Damien Williams go so they could give potential break out player Kenyan Drake more carries, then signed Frank Gore for some reason. We are still waiting for DeVante Parker to be the dominant receiver that people seem to think he is. They traded Jarvis Landry and his 7.7 yards per catch over to Cleveland and replaced him with both Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to probably do the same thing. Kenny Stills is a fun deep threat that can take the top off of defenses but no other receiver seems worthwhile. Their offensive line is bad and might get Tannehill injured again.

On defense they have the AARP of elite edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake. While both are still great players it’s hard to imagine the veterans still have enough in the tank to be down-to-down contributors. Akeem Spence, who they grabbed in a trade from Detroit, is a good pass penetrator inside and rounds out a solid defensive line. Things are looking pretty rough at linebacker, though. Kiko Alonso is in the running for worst player in the NFL, Raekwon McMillan didn’t look good in his rookie year last season and rookie third rounder Jerome Baker is going to be forced into a huge role due to the lack of depth they have. Their secondary has two exciting safeties patrolling the backline of the defense with Reshad Jones and rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Just like Denver, Miami seems to be in denial that they need to rebuild. The roster doesn’t have enough talent to compete but that didn’t stop them from signing big name veteran free agents with little upside. This team is lost and will need to right the ship fast in they don’t want to get stuck in NFL purgatory.

27. Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns will be one of the most fun teams to follow this season. They are a team that has won one of their past 32 games but also still might have legitimate wild card aspirations this season.

They nabbed both Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry in trades early in the offseason. They drafted Antonio Callaway and shipped off Corey Coleman. Josh Gordon should be back in action and the combination of newly signed Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb creates intrigue at running back. 2017 first-round pick David Njoku looked great last year as well and should build on a solid start to his career.

They still have a lot of young developmental pieces that they need to get on the same page and the offensive line doesn’t look very good at the moment, but Cleveland’s offense has potential to catch teams but surprise if they start to click. Oh, and they have Baker Mayfield hanging around in the background as well.

Their defense features a lot of young exciting talent as well. Myles Garrett is already a great pass rusher. Emmanuel Ogbah and Larry Ogunjobi join him on a defensive line that can devastate opposing offensive lines. Jamie Collins isn’t the elite talent he once was with the Patriots but he is a great piece at the second level for them. Their secondary features an exciting pair of safeties in Damarious Randall and Jabrill Peppers and fourth overall pick Denzel Ward has the opportunity to immediately contribute at corner. Unfortunately, all of this young talent is being coached by the king of all baboons in Gregg Williams so it might not matter how much talent they have.

28. Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts will finally see the return of Andrew Luck this season, but they didn’t put much support around their quarterback during his absence. T.Y. Hilton is a top-tier receiver but beyond him the only wideout of note is Ryan Grant, a player that would be on the fringes of many other rosters. Eric Ebron is a fun exciting talent that was available as a free agent for some reason (we miss u eric pls forgive us) and gives Luck a great big redzone target that can also stretch the field from the tight end position. Marlon Mack is essentially Saquon Barkley-lite at running back but he isn’t the bell cow that they will need him to be as the only good tailback on the roster. Rookie guard Quenton Nelson is a great pick up for the offensive line but keeping Andrew Luck protected will remain a concern this year.

Their defense may have a future Hall of Famer in Malik Hooker at free safety. Hooker is basically alone, though. The front seven belongs in the same tier as the Lions and the Chiefs and neither of their starting corners, Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore, provide anything to be excited about.

Indianapolis is getting their great quarterback but did absolutely nothing to provide him the tools he needed to succeed in his return. Luck may win some games on his own but the Colts look like a disaster at the moment.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay very clearly went to the David Gentleman school of roster building.

The Bucs are loaded up in their skill positions at the moment. Mike Evans had a down year in 2017 but he has the athleticism and talent necessary to bounce back. DeSean Jackson is still somehow torching opposing secondaries. O.J. Howard had a good rookie year that he looks to build on in Season 2. Rookie running back Ronald Jones was a disaster in preseason and training camp but thankfully for them Peyton Barber is looking like the real deal.

Quarterback remains a concern, though. Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games of the season and Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center to start the year. It is unsure how big of an upgrade Winston even is over Fitzpatrick. Both are extremely reckless passers that absolutely love turning the ball over. One of the greatest way to make sure your quarterback turns the ball over a lot is to make sure they are under pressure every snap, and with the current Bucs offensive line that is very likely to happen. Former Ravens center Ryan Jensen might help fix the issues that plagued the line last season but he will need his teammates up front to really step up if they want to truly protect their quarterbacks.

Tampa Bay’s defense features one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. Vernon Hargreaves never looks like he knows what he’s doing on the field and Brent Grimes is a shell of the player he once was. Chris Conte is somehow employed and starting on an NFL roster as well. They drafted a pair of corners in Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart that they will need to step up in their rookie year or else this defense will be a disaster.

They are surprisingly strong up front, though. Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are a linebacker duo that rivals the Barr-Kendricks duo over in Minnesota. Vita Vea joins Gerald McCoy on the interior of the defensive line with the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry coming around the edges. Their defensive line will give opposing offenses something to fear, but the weakness of the secondary behind them leaves the liable to give up huge plays on a regular basis.

30. New York Jets

The New York Jets quarterback competition seemed to dominate the headlines this offseason. It was so prominent that many even seemed to forget how bad the rest of this roster is. Sam Darnold will be the only Week 1 rookie starting quarterback, and he’s going to be thrown straight into the fire. The USC product will be stuck behind terrible protection as the Jets offensive line remains one of the worst in the league. His running game won’t give him help either as the running back duo of Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell are definitely not good enough to make the best out of terrible blocking. New York does have a quietly good receiving corps, though. Jermaine Kearse is a strong receiver 1, Robby Anderson emerged as one of the league’s premier big play threats. Quincy Enunwa was great in 2016 and will return after missing 2017 with an injury. Terrelle Pryor was terrible in Washington but if he can return to his 2016 form them they have a strong quartet of receiving talent.

Their defense is terrible, though. The front seven doesn’t have anyone that they can regularly rely on the provide a pass rush. Jamal Adams is the star of the secondary. The 2017 first-round pick has the Kam Chancellor-esque ability to somehow be everywhere on the field and always be in a position to make a huge play. Trumaine Johnson is an intriguing pick up at corner from the Rams but other than those two there is not much to look forward to on the second level of the Jets defense either.

New York will be a fun team to follow early on in the year just to see how Darnold performs in his first NFL action. The Jets are currently a project team, though, and this should be Year 1 of a long term plan to compete in the future.

31. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders are basically an experiment to see how good a team can be after they get rid of all of their good players. I do not see this experiment ending well.

Jon Gruden came into town and immediately got to work by cutting one of the best punters in the league, getting rid of the team’s best receiver and isolating and later trading their superstar linebacker. David Carr is still on a hyper-inflated contract he earned a couple years ago and Oakland hasn’t provided him the tools he needs to succeed. The offensive line is terrible and the addition on Kolton Miller is not the fix they needed. Amari Cooper seems to have just given up. Newly signed Jordy Nelson can barely move anymore. Not even Tom Brady could make Brandon LaFell look like a good receiver in the past. The potential emergence of Chris Warren at running back seemed exciting but his season ended before it started when he suffered a preseason knee injury. Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin both still have a bit left in the tank but neither can be depended on to be the great talents they once were.

The one good thing they had going for them on defense last season got sent to Chicago and it’s hard to find anything to be excited about on this side of the ball. Bruce Irvin is a decent pass rusher but things just got a lot harder for him without Khalil Mack flanking defenses from the opposite side anymore. Third-round pick Arden Key has potential as an edge rusher but he is raw and this probably won't be the year he can really contribute. Tahrir Whitehead is the team’s best linebacker so if you’re a Lions fan you know exactly how bad they are there at the moment. Cornerback Gareon Conley will rejoin the team after missing almost the entirety of his rookie year with a knee injury, and they will be fully reliant on him to save the back end of the defense.

I don’t even have a snarky remark to finish this preview with. I have no idea what this team’s long or short-term plans are.

32. Buffalo Bills

It’s incredible that I have found a way to rank a team below the Oakland Raiders but here we are.

Buffalo making the playoffs in 2017 was a miracle. They entered the season towards the bottom of everyone’s power rankings, played terribly all year, randomly started their backup quarterback and let him throw five first half interceptions but still snuck into the playoffs. As a reward, the quarterback who carried them that far got traded to the Browns and replaced with Josh Allen.

It’s hard to see any path to success for Buffalo this season. Allen failed to beat out Nathan Peterman for the starting quarterback role which already seems concerning. They dealt away their best offensive lineman in Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and failed to replace him. Their receiving corps features draft bust Kelvin Benjamin, one of the league’s worst receivers in Zay Jones and average tight end Charles Clay. This offense is going to have a lot of trouble moving the ball at all this season with a bad quarterback throwing to even worse receivers. LeSean McCoy is still around, though, and he’s still really good at least.

The strength of this team lies in its secondary. Nabbing Micah Hyde from the Packers in free agency last season proved to be an incredible move. Their first-round selection of corner Tre’Davious White in the draft last year landed them an elite corner in Year 1. Jordan Poyer is a great complementary safety for Hyde and rounds out a strong secondary that will create turnovers and bully teams this season. There really isn’t much to look forward to in front of them, though. The signing of Star Lotulelei to the defensive line may have made an already bad front seven even worse. Outside of Jerry Hughes it is hard to be excited about any of their pass rushers.

The Bills have constructed the worst roster in football. Then again, we thought they did the same last season and they made the playoffs. So who knows what kind of magic Peterman and Allen can pull out for this team?

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