SportsPulse: Lorenzo Reyes examines the AFC North and explains scenarios that will lead to each team making and not making the playoffs.
NFL power rankings, training camp edition:
1. New England Patriots (1): Do they have the most formidable roster? Nope — even if this Gronk retirement ultimately proves premature. But they’ve got the most jewelry and enter 2019 in the pole position, where they’ll stay until further notice.
2. Los Angeles Chargers (2): Their 12-4 record in 2018 tied for AFC’s best. Add full campaigns from DE Joey Bosa, TE Hunter Henry and a compelling set of rookies, and it might finally be Philly Riv’s year. And though RB Melvin Gordon’s business posture looms as problematic, it seems likely to be addressed. If not, a holdout should be survivable — Bolts were 4-0 without him last season.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (6):Residual championship core bolstered by guys returning from injury (QB Carson Wentz, CB Ronald Darby, DE Derek Barnett) and nifty pickups (DL Malik Jackson, WR DeSean Jackson, RBs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders). DeSean Jackson, who averaged league-best 18.9 ypc in 2018, brings needed deep speed.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (8): Defense should be better suited to new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s philosophy and will benefit from arrival of multi-faceted DE Frank Clark. But secondary questions linger. K.C. caught a break with resolution of WR Tyreek Hill’s situation, but that doesn’t mean QB Patrick Mahomes can replicate off-the-charts MVP numbers.
5. New Orleans Saints (3): New TE Jared Cook and second-year DE Marcus Davenport need to be difference makers for club on cusp — especially as team adjusts to loss of C Max Unger and RB Mark Ingram. No word on Lady Luck’s travel plans for January.
6. Minnesota Vikings (5): They’re lurking under radar. Rookie C Garrett Bradbury should stabilize O-line for team looking to re-emphasize run … which, if successful, should restore defense to elite stratum.
7. Indianapolis Colts (4): Aside from Mahomes, no one threw more TDs than Andrew Luck (39) last season. Expect him to get some easy ones this year from fleet rookie Parris Campbell.
8. Atlanta Falcons (10): Return of coordinator Dirk Koetter and RB Devonta Freeman plus a revamped line could vault this offense to level that could at least resemble what Super Bowl team managed three years ago. Underappreciated defense also getting replenished by healthy horses.
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9. Chicago Bears (13): Defense as good as anyone’s, but there will be plenty of scrutiny on coordinator Chuck Pagano as he takes baton from Vic Fangio. Lots of eyeballs on QB Mitch Trubisky and whomever winds up kicking, too.
10. Cleveland Browns (9): No franchise is mired in a longer playoff drought (2002). The Brownies finally have the raw ingredients they need to escape the desert, but do they have the seasoning?
11. Los Angeles Rams (7): Free agency was unkind to them in the trenches, and it remains to be seen if RB Todd Gurley’s knee is going to flare once season starts. Don’t expect another 6-0 run through NFC West, either.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (14): Will less high-maintenance talent equate to more wins? That’s the hope for optimistic crew. ILB Devin Bush should be on rookie of the year short list.
13. San Francisco 49ers (18): Preseason outlook isn’t nearly what it was a year ago even if the overall talent might be superior. That (plus QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s surgically repaired knee and two stacked lines) might help launch proud organization back to prominence.
14. Green Bay Packers (11): Retooled depth chart is intriguing but sure feels like they’ll (read: Aaron Rodgers) need time to adapt to new coach Matt LaFleur, whose offense ranked 25th in Tennessee last season.
15. Dallas Cowboys (15): Team prone to distractions has a lot of unfinished contractual business. DE DeMarcus Lawrence, who did cash in, may miss start of season in wake of shoulder surgery. Might same go for RB Zeke Elliott?
16. Seattle Seahawks (12): Well-constructed nucleus of young studs carried them to greatness six years ago. Current newcomers, even with newly minted QB Russell Wilson at helm, don’t seem up to task quite yet — especially in wake of Jarran Reed suspension.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (19): Despite consistently being in tough spots, defense remained top-five unit in 2018. But Jags still need more big plays from that side of ball to reclaim Sacksonville label and playoff bona fides.
18. Tennessee Titans (20): QB Marcus Mariota may be entering contract year, but he’d be wise — and likely healthier — to spend most of his time handing off to Derrick Henry this season.
19. Baltimore Ravens (17): Exciting as this offense could be, can it compensate for all the starters last season’s top-ranked defense lost?
20. Carolina Panthers (23): QB Cam Newton’s repaired throwing shoulder may not be as concerning as fact that no one aside from RB Christian McCaffrey caught more than 55 balls in 2018.
21. Buffalo Bills (25): Watch out for this defense. Ranked second last year, it might enjoy Aaron Donald-lite impact from rookie Ed Oliver.
22. New York Jets (24): Despite talk of fresh tread on new RB Le’Veon Bell’s tires, cars parked in garage too long tend to break down with regularity.
23. Houston Texans (16): If it’s possible to have a quietly disastrous offseason, they qualify. Hard to foresee them cruising back to AFC South’s summit.
24. Oakland Raiders (22): Ought to be quite fun to watch but will likely have to win a lot of shootouts given reality of defense that remains Mack-less despite draft upgrades.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (21): Coach Bruce Arians may not put a premium on running backs, but his offense has typically been manned by far more accomplished runners than anyone in this stable.
26. New York Giants (30): Let’s hope they resurrect before dynamic RB Saquon Barkley’s career is squandered.
27. Denver Broncos (26): When you change out coaching staff and starting quarterback, things typically don’t go well initially.
28. Arizona Cardinals (29):When you change out coaching staff and starting quarterback, things typically don’t go well initially … though intrigue factor is much higher in desert than Denver.
29. Detroit Lions (28): Hard to envision pathway to success given their shortcomings relative to three division rivals positioned to contend.
30. Washington Redskins (27): Given litany of challenging circumstances, sixth-year coach Jay Gruden has had laudable run. But he needs miracle to reach Year 7.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (31): O-line back in shambles after premature loss of first-rounder Jonah Williams.
32. Miami Dolphins (32): Coach Brian Flores is evidently providing needed culture change, but that only goes so far without talent … and Fins don’t have much.
(Previous ranking in parentheses)
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