The kickoff of the NFL season is only a few days away. This week we will take a look at the Top 16 teams in the leagues heading into 2019, as we start to take a look at teams that have legitimate chance to make a Super Bowl run this season.
16. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans should be the biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement. The AFC South favorite lost their most important player, and the Texans slide into pole position in the division race. Houston saw an opportunity and made a flurry of moves over the past week to strengthen the roster as they hope to make a playoff run this season.
Deshaun Watson is an absolute stud at quarterback, and he has some of the best weapons in the league around him with DeAndre Hopkins, a returning Will Fuller and recently acquired Duke Johnson and Kenny Stills. The offensive line has been a problem for years, but the recent addition of Laremy Tunsil at left tackle should be a huge boost.
J.J. Watt headlines the Texans on defense. The veteran defensive end is coming off a great season where he proved his recent injury history could not hold him back forever. Zach Cunningham looks like he could potentially develop into a star at linebacker as well. The front seven is great, but their are a few concerns in the secondary. Replacing Kareem Jackson with Bradley Roby is a huge downgrade. While the players in the secondary are not particularly bad, none of them look like they will be the difference makers that can win this team a Super Bowl.
Houston will be favorites to win the AFC South this year. They are the only team in the division with stability at quarterback. They have the most talented roster. Concerns on the offensive line and in the secondary could prove to be the Texans fatal flaw, though, and they will need Watson and their incredible front seven to have huge years if they want to be in Super Bowl contention this season.
The Killer Bee’s era of football is over in Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell walked away from the Steelers after a year-long hold out, and Antonio Brown managed to force his way out of the Steel City this offseason. For the majority of teams, losing two stars of that caliber would trigger a rebuild. The Steelers may still have enough talent to compete.
Ben Roethlisberger is the last of the Bee’s still around. The quarterback is coming off of a 2018 season where he posted a career high 5,129 yards. Roethlisberger is a gunslinger in every sense, and while he does put up huge yardage, the many turnovers he commits are a big trade-off. JuJu Smith-Schuster is set to slide into the WR1 role vacated by Brown. He seems up for the job, and he slowly heads towards elite status. James Conner proved last year that basically anyone could have a big season behind the Steelers great offensive line. This offense could be a juggernaut, they just need Roethlisberger to be smart with the ball.
Cornerback had been an issue for the Steelers for years, but the addition of Steven Nelson to play across Joe Haden should be huge for the teams defensive backfield. Do-it-all linebacker T.J. Watt is slowly developing into an outright super star. Expect him to have a big year as well.
Other than those three there are still a lot of problems on defense, though. Mark Barron is a great addition at inside linebacker but the aging veteran was released by the Los Angeles Rams for a reason. Bud Dupree and Cameron Hayward both look like they are not going to be the players we once thought they could be. The front seven is too reliant on Watt to be a star, and that is not a recipe for success.
Pittsburgh is still a team with a lot of star power. They will still expect to make the playoffs as Roethlisberger enters the twilight of his career. While it should be relieving to put a dramatic chapter of team history behind them, they will still feel the loss of a huge amount of talent this season.
14. Seattle Seahawks
Last year, it looked like we would finally see the death of the Seattle Seahawks. The team that has been in the playoff hunt for what seems like forever was dismantled on defense, and many thought they would be rebuilding. Instead, they earned a wild card spot and featured in the NFC playoffs. Expect them to compete to be right back there this year.
Russell Wilson became the highest-paid player in NFL history this offseason and for good reason. The quarterback has managed to drag this offense to success despite an ever-present horrible offensive line. That offensive line may be about average this year, which is huge for him. Last season, running back Chris Carson emerged as one of the league's elite players, and he should be able to build on that this year. Tyler Lockett rounds out a good skill position group, as the receiver has quietly been one of the most reliable players in the NFL over the years. Rookie receiver DK Metcalf may miss some of the early stages of the season due to injury, but keep an eye out for him as well.
The Legion of Boom era officially ended this offseason with the loss of Earl Thomas at free safety. It was a huge loss for a secondary that will not be relying on Shaquill Griffin and Tedric Thompson to carry them this year. Fourth-round rookie Ugochukwu Amadi is also expected to be thrown into the fire as a starter at nickel corner Week 1. The front seven features future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner anchoring an intriguing unit. L.J. Collier may start the season injured, but expect him to be an instant boost to the team’s edge rushing unit. They recently added Jadeveon Clowney from the Texans, and the Seahawks impressive defense has only gotten better.
Seattle is an ever-present force in the NFC West. While the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are capturing all the offseason hype, don’t be surprised if Seattle manages to make it into the three-team race.
2018 was a disaster for the Minnesota Vikings. Upgrading to Kirk Cousins from Case Keenum should have been the move needed to propel them to a Super Bowl title, but a horrible offensive line and late-season collapse by Cousins led to the team missing out of the postseason entirely. They will hope to put last year behind them and, once again, expect to be in the playoff race this year.
Cousins definitely did not live up to expectations in 2018, but he did show some flashes of why he was one of the most sought after free agents on the market last season. On a good day, Cousins can be the best quarterback in the NFL. He has had games that make him look like an MVP-level player. Unfortunately, he’s inconsistent and often falls apart when he gets no help from his offensive line.
Luckily, the offensive line should be much better this year, as they filled up their biggest gap up front by adding center Garrett Bradbury in the first round. Their skill position players are great, as well. Dalvin Cook is an elite running back, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are the best wide receiver duo in the league and Kyle Rudolph can still produce at tight end. Just like last year, this offense can blow up any team on any given day.
Their defense is great as well. They somehow managed to keep Anthony Barr away from the New York Jets. Barr join Eric Kendricks at linebacker. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen return as pass rushers as well. If an opposing offense somehow manages to survive that pass rush, then the secondary is there to beat them down as well. Xavier Rhodes regressed a bit in 2018, but there is possibility that it was just an aberration. Harrison Smith is one of the league’s best strong safeties. From front to back, the Vikings defense is absolutely incredible. They have stars at every level and can shut down opposing defenses.
Looking at the Vikings roster, it’s hard to not put this team in the top five. They have talent everywhere from top to bottom. The problem is how inconsistent they are. When everyone is online, this is the best team in football, but how often is everyone actually online?
12. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers were a hot pick to be the breakout team of the 2018 season before Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the year. The quarterback should be back in action, and that could put the 49ers right back in the playoff conversation.
We still do not know how good Garoppolo is, though. Everyone is still betting on the former New England Patriots’ potential, but no one knows if he will reach his peak. Garoppolo does not have the best offense around him either. George Kittle is a start at tight end and has proven to be the steal of the 2017 NFL draft. But other than him, the team lacks options. Matt Breida is great at running back, but Tevin Coleman is aging and Jerick McKinnon was placed on season-ending IR. Dante Pettis had a fine rookie year when you consider the talent he was playing with, but he has not proven himself as a true No. 1 option. The offensive line is not particularly great either. The offense is really going to need Garoppolo to be the player we all thought he was when he played in New England if they will succeed this year.
The defense may be great. It all starts up front with the combination of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and newly-acquired Dee Ford. San Francisco’s pass rush is good enough to devastate any offense. The secondary behind them is great as well. Richard Sherman came off of an Achilles injury and was dominant in his first season in the Bay. Ahkello Witherspoon’s second NFL season was not perfect, but he did show enough flashes of great play to make the team excited about him going forward. Jason Verrett is injured once again, but he should be a huge boost to the defensive backfield once he is back in action.
San Francisco is once again a team on the rise. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s genius play calling should be able to make the most of Garoppolo’s potential. Everything still feels up in the air for this team, though. We can talk about how great they are for paper for years, but they will one day have to finally perform.
11. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta is another team who was set to have a great 2018 season before injuries took their toll. The Falcons were decimated by the end of the first month of the season, and they never truly stood a chance. The roster is still filled with talent, though, and they should expect to compete in 2019.
Matt Ryan is still playing at an MVP level despite being three years removed from winning the award for the 2016 season. Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are in contention for the best receiving duo in the league, and Calvin Ridley is just a cherry on top. The loss of Tevin Coleman at running back is mitigated by the emergence of Ito Smith last season, and Devonta Freeman can still be a great player when he is healthy. The first-round selection of Chris Lindstrom helps bolster and offensive line that never was a problem in Atlanta.
The Falcons defense did not make it to far into the 2018 season without suffering major injuries. While it cost them an entire year, it did give them a good look at some of their depth. Damontae Kazee is one player that emerged due to injury last season. Kazee joins Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Desmond Trufant and Isiah Oliver in a defensive backfield that should easily get over the loss of Robert Alford. Deion Jones is one of the league’s better middle linebacker, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett makes the interior of the Falcons defense incredibly hard to navigate. They may need a little help rushing from the edge, but Atlanta’s front seven has enough talent to succeed this year.
Atlanta nearly won the Super Bowl in 2017 and have had the talent to be in the hunt for every Super Bowl since. Last year was a let down, but it can be written off due to injuries. Now with everyone back in action the Falcons can finally set their sights on the Lombardi trophy that managed to elude them in the past.
10. Cleveland Browns
I could never imagine writing an NFL preview and having the Cleveland Browns in the top 10. Their long-term rebuild looks like it is finally paying off, though, and 2019 could prove to be a magical year in The Land.
It all starts at quarterback. The Browns took a risk by selecting the fiery Baker Mayfield first overall in the 2018 draft. Mayfield had a standout rookie season that included him setting the NFL record for most ever touchdown passes for a rookie quarterback. Things should only get better for him this year, as now he has an all-time great receiver to throw to in Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham joins high school and college teammate Jarvis Landry and tight end David Njoku to create a triple threat that will be near impossible for teams to cover. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (who should not be in the NFL no matter how great of a running back he is) have a great offensive line in front of them that should give the offense a second dimension.
The pass rushing duo of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon has the ability to ruin any opposing offense. Larry Ogunjobi is a great interior rusher as well and completes a great defensive front. Cleveland had another top-five pick in the 2018 draft, and spent it on cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward was a star in his rookie year, and if he can avoid a sophomore slump, the Browns secondary should be great. Damarious Randall had a career revival after converting to safety last year. Greedy Williams was selected by the team in the second round and has potential to truly shine in his rookie year with all the talent he gets to play with.
Cleveland is finally ready for the big stage. They have all-star talent across the roster, but the stage could prove to be too big for some of the younger players. We all also have memory of dream teams in the past, and many have spectacularly failed.
The Philadelphia Eagles fan base is still riding high from the team’s surprise Super Bowl run in 2018. Last season was tumultuous, but they managed to sneak into the playoffs—and even win a game—after a late-season run. The team should be even better this year as the Eagles will hope to compete for their second Super Bowl in three years.
Philadelphia may get a full season of Carson Wentz for the first time since 2016. Wentz will need to stay healthy now, as Nick Foles is not waiting in the wings to save the team if he goes down. A great receiving group that already featured Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery will benefit from the return of DeSean Jackson. The offensive line had a down year in 2018, but on paper they have potential to have a great year blocking for Wentz upfront. While the addition of Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears is not franchise altering, it can help a run game that seemed lackluster with Jay Ajayi as the main back.
Fletcher Cox headlines a defensive front that can lead this team back to the Super Bowl. A secondary that was horrible in 2019 projects to be a little better this year. Ronald Darby is expected to return soon from an ACL injury that cost him part of last season. The team’s top corner returning shoves Jalen Mills off of the depth chart, as the emergence of Avonte Maddox last season gives the Eagles a cornerback duo that is not among the worst in the league. A healthy Sidney Jones and the veteran presence of Malcolm Jenkins should be huge for the team, as well.
Philadelphia has potential to make a another Super Bowl run this year, but they will need to stay healthy. The team has been the most injury prone in the league over the past year, and they may not have the depth needed to deal with a massive injury list like that have been able to in the past.