Offseason NFL Power rankings: 11-20
By Ben Rolfe
Which teams could be scrapping for the final playoff spots in 2019?
The NFL season is coming fast! Teams are starting to have their rookies report for training camp, and we are just over a week away from the Hall of Fame game. So there is no better time than the present to assess where teams stand. On Monday we looked at the bottom-12 in the power rankings. Today we will move onto the next 10, and look at the teams who could be fighting for those final playoff spots.
Naturally, these power rankings will be based upon talent and potential for success this season. However, a lot of teams are very similar at this point of the year. Therefore if a team is likely to put an entertaining product on the field they will get boosted over a team expected to be less entertaining. Winning trumps all, but if you are going to be bad I’d much prefer to watch a team who is bad but entertaining than a bad boring team.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were a really tough team to find a spot for in these power rankings. You could argue that last season’s performance deserves to be close to the 30th spot. However, there is still a lot of the elements to this team that made up the team that lost in the 2017 AFC Championship Game. That is especially the case on defense, where infighting ripped them apart last season.
The arrival of new starting quarterback Nick Foles should hopefully keep the peace in the locker room, but can he elevate the offense enough? His skill position players are a concern, especially if Leonard Fournette cannot stay on the field. Pass catching wise they have talent but it is unproven. Foles will need to elevate his pass catchers in a new offensive scheme, which is exactly what the Jaguars believe he can do with his big contract. However, this is going to be a much bigger challenge for Foles than it was with the talent surrounding him in Philadelphia.
19. Carolina Panthers
So much for this Carolina Panthers team rests on the health of Cam Newton. If he is healthy and throwing the ball well they could quickly rise up these power rankings. He is surrounded by so much skill-position talent that if healthy he will struggle not to succeed. Their offensive line may be the biggest question mark after Newton’s health, but it is not a terrible unit.
Defensively they are not exciting, but they are also not a problem. They added talent on the front seven and a strong front seven is how they had their past success. Ultimately this all comes back to Newton. If he is healthy they have a shot to challenge for a playoff spot. If he is not then they could be in the top-five of the draft region.
18. Tennessee Titans
It was a strange year for the Titans in 2018. They invested big in free agency but never seemed like a splash team. They had some impressive wins, such as manhandling the New England Patriots, but it was still somewhat a surprise when they were still in the running come playoff time. Ultimately their season finished in disappointment. They had another active free agency, bringing in Adam Humphries to aid Marcus Mariota, but it is a relatively minor boost to an offense which will be needing to run a brand new scheme once again in 2019.
Their defense is arguably the strength of the team, but they demonstrated they are looking to the future as much as the present, taking Jeffery Simmons in the first round. If this team is to have a shot at the playoffs they need this defense to restrict scoring. However, if the offense cannot click into gear it is likely that once again the Titans will be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
This group was so tough to rank and the Steelers epitomise the reason why. You can make a case for any of the following teams as high as 10th, or in this slot. Ultimately, I settled here with the Steelers because of questions surrounding their offense without Antonio Brown. Can Juju Smith-Schuster step up into that number one role? Can they find another WR2 to give them that great contrast? The answers are likely yes but can they do it fast enough to stay in the hunt for the AFC playoffs?
Defensively we need to see a big step up, and that limits their ceiling in these power rankings. They drafted middle linebacker Devin Bush in the first round of the draft, and need him to immediately be a leader. That is a big ask on a rookie, and ultimately this defense could be the reason we see the Steelers watching the playoffs as opposed to participating in them once again this season.
16. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks just kind of quietly crept into the playoffs last season. After losing Earl Thomas to injury it felt like the team was rarely in the headlines. However, they went 10-6, before giving the Cowboys all they could handle in the playoffs. Can they repeat that success in 2019? Now that is a tough question.
They do not seem to have really improved in the past offseason. Losing Frank Clark to the Chiefs will hurt an already highly questioned defense. The retirement of Doug Baldwin will also add stress to their passing game. Expect to see them lean heavily on their run game, and hope their relatively inexperienced defense can produce the goods. This is a team that could finish anywhere between 10-6 and 6-10 and I would not be surprised by any of those numbers.
15. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were one of the toughest teams to find a home for in these power rankings. They finished 2018 like an absolute tank, going 6-1 after their bye week, with Lamar Jackson steering their ship. Ultimately they fell in the wildcard round, when the Chargers defense came up with a solution to their particular problem.
The problem entering 2019 is two-fold. Offensively the “tape-factor” is a concern. Now that teams have seen Jackson in action in the NFL it will be easier to scheme him. Throw in that the Chargers just gave everyone a blueprint for how to shut this offense down and it could get messy. The other problem is that their defense lost a lot of good pieces. Yes, they added Earl Thomas on the back end of things, but a lot of experience walked out the door this offseason. Would it surprise me if this team made the playoffs? Absolutely not. However, I would also not be surprised if this team struggles to live up to the standard they set in the second half of 2018.
14. Green Bay Packers
The simple truth here is that you can never write off Aaron Rodgers. If you do then you are likely setting yourself up to fail. However, the Green Bay Packers have a number of questions around them this season. Can Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur gel? If so then brilliant, but if not then the offense could stagnate. Rodgers talent will always give them a chance but this is a tough division, and hiccups will be tough to overcome.
The defense is also a massive concern. They lost a lot of experienced players this offseason, but they also added some interesting fresh meat. This defense could easily be the X factor that wins them this division. However, equally, it could be the Achilles heel of the entire team. I want the Packers back in the playoffs this season, but things never seem to be plain sailing in Wisconsin.
13. Minnesota Vikings
This Vikings team has so much talent on both sides of the ball. They clearly felt like they were nearly there in 2018 because a three-year fully guaranteed contract for a QB is a win-now type move. Skill-wise they had the talent in 2018, but the offensive line and offensive coaching disfunction cost them. Now we reinforcements on the offensive line that unit could be a real weapon in 2019. However, the key is that the line needs to gel. If it does not then they will not be able to limp through their division.
Defensively they were top-10 last year and they have kept the bulk of their unit intact. Their slight weaknesses were against the run and forcing turnovers, so they will be looking to improve. In an easier division, this team would be an easy top-10 ranking for me.
12. Houston Texans
The Texans season ended pretty flat in 2018. They were manhandled by the Colts in the playoffs, which ultimately meant they ended the season losing three of their last five games. Defensively they were super strong against the run but ranked close to the bottom of the league against the pass. A lot of that was volume though, as they saw close to the most passes attempted against them in the league. On a per pass basis, they ranked pretty much in the middle of the pack, which they will still want to improve.
The entirety of the issues on this team came down to their offensive line. They ranked dead-last in sack% and at one point Deshaun Watson had to take a bus to an away game because he was too injured to fly. They addressed their line in the draft and that is where their hopes lie. The rest of this team has Super Bowl-winning talent. However, if this line struggles then it could be a lost season, with a losing record more than possible. The variance on this roster is pretty extreme, which made them extremely hard to find a home for in these power rankings.
11. Atlanta Falcons
I did not move a single team around more in these power rankings than the Falcons. They are a supremely talented team, with skillful players at all levels. However, much like the Texans, their offensive line was a mess. It was nowhere near as bad as the Texans, but it hampered what could have been a record-breaking offense. Now with a new offensive coordinator and two high draft picks added on the line, can they get their offense back to their Super Bowl appearance year?
If their offense clicks with the new, but at the same time returning OC, then they have the defense to back that up. Last year their defense was beset by injuries and it really hampered them. The odds that they suffer that kind of bad luck again is low. For that reason, I think the Falcons are in with a shout this year. Ther schedule is tough, but 13 dome games should offset some of those concerns. The Falcons are my outside bet for the Super Bowl in 2019.
Image Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports