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NFL Power Rankings 2016: Examining the Best Teams Before Start of Regular Season

NFL Power Rankings 2016: Examining the Best Teams Before Start of Regular Season
Winslow Townson/Associated Press

The first week of preseason games is in the books. Look for NFL teams to ramp up their workloads and their preparation levels as the start of the regular season looms.

While teams have backed off significantly in the amount of hitting that goes on in training camp and in preseason games in recent years, the game is still football, and the teams that can advance their physical play the most will have an advantage when the season gets underway in September.

Our power rankings are based largely on the way teams finished the 2015 season and what they have done in the offseason. In addition to ranking the 32 teams in the league, we take a deeper look at the three best teams before the start of the regular season.

NFL Power Rankings
Ranking Team Skinny
1 New England Patriots Never sell them short
2 Arizona Cardinals Still improving
3 Carolina Panthers Defense will keep them near the top
4 Green Bay Packers Bounce-back year from Aaron Rodgers
5 Minnesota Vikings Could surprise any of the top teams
6 Cincinnati Bengals Must learn to hang tough in the big games
7 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense has too many holes
8 Seattle Seahawks Down a couple of notches
9 Kansas City Chiefs Need more consistency on offense
10 Oakland Raiders On the rise
11 Denver Broncos Offense will drag this team down
12 Dallas Cowboys Too inconsistent
13 Indianapolis Colts Could jump up if Andrew Luck returns to form
14 Washington Redskins Most experts sell them short
15 Houston Texans Counting on unproven quarterback
16 New York Giants Transition year, but offense is explosive
17 Baltimore Ravens Too inconsistent to make a run at the top
18 New York Jets Many divisive elements on this team
19 Jacksonville Jaguars Moving toward respectability
20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jameis Winston ready to make a big move
21 Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota will have an excellent second season
22 Los Angeles Rams Jeff Fisher’s last stand
23 Atlanta Falcons Struggle against bigger, stronger teams
24 New Orleans Saints Defense remains a weak spot
25 Buffalo Bills The mix is not a good one
26 Philadelphia Eagles Could have a disastrous season
27 Detroit Lions May be better than most think
28 Miami Dolphins Still searching for identity
29 Chicago Bears Offensive line will struggle all year
30 San Diego Chargers Management has put this team in a bind
31 San Francisco 49ers Glory days are long in the past
32 Cleveland Browns No place to go but up

Silverman rankings

New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are in our top spot, but they are likely to slip in the first four weeks of the season without quarterback Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo is a fine backup, but it’s unlikely that he will be able to keep the Patriots’ sheet clean while Brady is serving his Deflategate suspension.

But once Brady serves out that suspension and returns to the New England lineup, it will be just a matter of a game or two before the Pats are back at top speed.

Look for significant improvement from their offensive line this season, as coach Dante Scarnecchia has returned after a two-year absence. Scarnecchia is a great teacher and an inspirational leader, and he will get a much better and more consistent effort from this group than the Pats got last year.

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

The running game will be quite effective with Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount lining up in the backfield. Lewis has the talent to break the long run, while Blount is the hammer who can carry the ball and keep the chains moving when the Patriots want to run the clock down in the fourth quarter.

The addition of tight end Martellus Bennett gives the Patriots the best one-two punch at that position in the league and perhaps in NFL history. Rob Gronkowski is clearly at the top of the chart among tight ends, and Bennett is capable of making huge plays. He should be inspired to play excellent football since he is in the last year of his contract.

The defense is quite solid even though the Pats traded Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is an excellent leader, and if the Pats are strong on defense this season, it would not be a surprise to see Patricia rise to the top of the list among the league’s assistants. 

Alan Branch and Jabaal Sheard are the leaders on the defensive line, but the linebackers are the heart of the defense. Dont’a Hightower is the policeman of the group, while Jamie Collins is a big-play specialist.

The Patriots are the strongest and deepest team in the league right now, and while there may be a dip during the regular season, they will be there at the end of the year as well.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals got quite a lesson from the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Arizona has had two excellent seasons in a row.

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Head coach Bruce Arians is one of the top tacticians in the league as well as an outstanding inspirational leader. He has built a team that regularly takes advantage of its opponents’ weaknesses by attacking quickly and taking charge early in the game.

Carson Palmer keys their attack with his explosive deep passing and ability to hit his receivers in stride. Larry Fitzgerald is a future Hall of Famer, and fellow receiver Michael Floyd is a dangerous playmaker who caught 52 passes for 849 yards and six touchdowns last season. 

Running backs David Johnson and Chris Johnson are good enough to take the heat off Palmer. David Johnson is a versatile player who can score as a runner, receiver and kick returner.

Look for a major improvement in Arizona’s ability to rush the quarterback. In addition to acquiring Jones from New England, the Cardinals drafted defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche in the first round. This should give the Cardinals the kind of nastiness in the pass rush that can make the difference in the fourth quarter of any important game.

Carolina Panthers

Many are looking at the Panthers to pick up from where they left off last season. The Super Bowl turned out to be a disaster because the Denver Broncos shut down Cam Newton and kept him from finishing a brilliant year in the correct manner.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the Panthers may have a bit of a Super Bowl hangover that appears from time to time at the start of the season, head coach Ron Rivera will figure it out and get this team playing back to its potential. It helps when you have a quarterback like Newton, who is capable of dominating any game with his arm strength, big-play ability and running talent.

No quarterback in the league is as versatile as Newton, and he should be even more dangerous this year with the return of explosive wideout Kelvin Benjamin. Tight end Greg Olsen is one of the top players at his position, and he has magnificent hands.

Running back Jonathan Stewart is not fancy, but he is dependable. He gained 989 yards on 242 carries last year, and he has the ability to take the burden off Newton.

While Newton is the headliner, the Panthers became NFC champions because of their defense. Linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are both devastating players who can attack opposing ball-carriers in a vicious manner. Kuechly had 118 tackles and six interceptions, while Davis made the Pro Bowl with 5.5 sacks and four interceptions. 

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