2020 Way Too Early Power Rankings: 16-9
Now, things get interesting.
This is the third part of a four-part "Way Too Early Power Rankings" series, meaning the teams with higher expectations and better situations on paper will begin being revealed.
Who will prove to live up to their billing? Who will underachieve and disappoint?
These are power rankings, not a crystal ball, and not all the teams ranked in the top half of the NFL in June will end up there in December. However, it is still a fun exercise to see who you thought would be positioned well for the upcoming season and see if they actually were based on game results.
In this edition of the power rankings, teams ranked 16th-9th will be listed. There will be one final part of these power rankings to highlight the top eight teams, at least on paper.
Coming in at No. 16 is a team that isn't used to being ranked that low.
16. New England Patriots
When was the last time the Patriots weren't considered a no-brainer to make the post-season?
Coming off a 12-4 season and a Wild Card weekend defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots shouldn't be in terrible shape. It's not often you see a team finish with a record like that and completely fall off the next season, so the team should at least be in the mix of things throughout the year.
However, losing quarterback Tom Brady hurts. It is true the Brady of three or so years ago appears to be no longer, but the dude can still play. Brady suffered from inconsistent offensive line play and a lack of weapons to throw to the entire 2019 season.
Still, he was the guy any fan or member of the organization wanted to be playing. Now, second-year QB Jarrett Stidham faces a lot of pressure as the heir apparent to Brady with the expectation of maintaining the franchise's lofty goals.
He does have a premier offensive line in front of him, with the return of David Andrews projected to make a massive difference. If Isaiah Wynn can stay healthy at left tackle, Stidham should at least remain comfortable behind center.
The targets he will have available to him must be better than they were last season. I am talking to you, N'Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu. If they provide more than they did in 2019 and perhaps the two rookie tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, prove to be worthy selections, then Stidham will have enough to work with.
He proved he could play at a high level in the Big 12 and SEC. Now, he must prove it at the next level.
A case can be made that the Patriots still have the best coach ever, will have a top-10 defense featuring a top secondary in the league, and can control games by not beating themselves and running the rock with a deep backfield behind an upper-echelon offensive line.
Those are all valid points, but there are serious questions at quarterback, the skill positions, and the front seven of the defense. Did I say Jarrett Stidham is taking over for Tom Brady?
15. Tennessee Titans
On paper, the Titans didn't have the best off-season.
Right tackle Jack Conklin, five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and cornerback Logan Ryan are no small losses.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, a pro's pro, may have meant more than you think to the success of Ryan Tannehill and the team as a whole as well. The Titans turned a lot of heads last season, but will have to prove they can repeat their success and adequately replace their losses.
With the massive contract extension that was handed to Tannehill in the off-season, they clearly believe he is a guy to build around. He definitely deserves the chance after the massive turnaround he led the Titans to last season. Running back Derrick Henry was franchise-tagged and appears to be a rising star in the league.
With the multitude of weapons in the passing game, the offense should be able to replicate their success and improve upon it. Veteran Dennis Kelly or rookie Isaiah Wilson must prove they can keep the right tackle position afloat and maintain continuity up front.
The defense was a tough, solid unit for majority of 2019. The retirement of defensive coordinator Dean Pees could result in some changes. Does head coach Mike Vrabel take over the job and call plays as well? Casey and Ryan were significant contributors as well.
Luckily, Jeffery Simmons, while he came with some baggage, appears to be the next defensive tackle star in Tennessee. Building on the momentum they found last season and ensuring they can replace some key losses will be keys to the Titans' success.
Vrabel certainly appears to be the real deal as head coach and the right man to make the Titans a consistent threat.
14. Denver Broncos
Watch out for the boys in Mile High.
This was a team that was featured in BOTH the top five offenses and defenses to watch articles right here at RosterGuy. These guys could do some serious damage in Vic Fangio's second year at the helm. Second-year quarterback Drew Lock is facing some pressure to make the Broncos a contender again.
Broncos general manager John Elway made sure Lock would have a better supporting cast around him. The interior of the offensive line was addressed by signing free agent Graham Glasgow to a large deal and drafting Lloyd Cushenberry III out of LSU in the third round.
Wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler were selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Running back Melvin Gordon was signed. Speedster tight end Albert "O" Okwuegbunam, Lock's former Missouri teammate, was taken in the fourth round. With young and exciting pieces such as Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay already in the fold, there is a lot to like now.
Lock, a 2019 second-round pick, had a decent rookie season, albeit in a small sample size of five games. Entering the lineup replacing veteran Joe Flacco, Lock didn't have to do much to better Flacco's performance. However, he came in and led the Broncos to a 4-1 finish, leaving Broncos fans pleasantly surprised and excited about the future.
The five-game trial ensured Lock would be the starter heading into 2020. While he was playing with a little bit of house money at the end of 2019, now there are some actual expectations. The Fangio-led defense will play a big role in living up to some of the excitement surrounding the Broncos.
A top-10 unit from 2019, with a first-year head coach running the show, added Pro Bowl veterans Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye through trades and will have their 2018 top-five pick, defensive end Bradley Chubb, healthy and ready to go.
The newly added seventh playoff team should almost certainly ensure the Broncos will be in the thick of playoff conversations.
13. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings had one of the more interesting off-seasons in the league.
Receiver Stefon Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills for a first-rounder. Safety Anthony Harris was surprisingly franchised. There was a mass exodus of veterans on defense, including Linval Joseph, Eversen Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Andrew Sendejo, and Mackensie Alexander.
At first glance, it seems like a youth movement is being prioritized at some spots along the roster. When you notice the Vikings ended up with the most selections through three days of the 2020 NFL Draft, it is clear getting younger was important.
The interesting thing is the Vikings certainly aren't in rebuilding mode, as they are coming off a 10-6 season featuring an upset of the New Orleans Saints on Wild Card weekend. Are they trying to rebuild on the fly while remaining a contender?
It appears to be a bold move, but one that could pay dividends and bring about a scent of fresh air. Even though they lost some key veterans, the Vikings roster is still strong and now, younger.
The offensive line must improve, but that is a unit that has struggled for quite some years now. Center Garrett Bradbury's progression is key and the rookie Ezra Cleveland could provide a big jolt if he is game-ready. An improved line would go a long ways towards Kirk Cousins being at the top of his game.
Speaking of Cousins, he has proven to be a legitimate starting quarterback. He has had his fair share of doubters, but his clutch performance to seal a win against the Saints in the post-season shows the capabilities he possesses. While Diggs departs, Adam Thielen, first-round rookie Justin Jefferson, and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. provide Cousins with plenty of options.
The offense shouldn't take a step back, but the defense may if they don't get on the same page. There is a lot of turnover on that side of the ball, but head coach Mike Zimmer is a coach you feel confident in dealing with that.
Cornerstones such as Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Anthony Harris still are in place as well. While a few familiar faces have departed, the Vikings appear to be ready to contend in 2020.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben Roethlisberger is back. The beard is shaved and rumors have it the beer belly may be gone.
Roethlisberger has been working hard during the time off since his injury that cost him his 2019 season and he should be primed to lead an offense that struggled with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges behind center.
A return to form by Big Ben would immediately make the Steelers a threat. If his play has regressed mightily or he is injured again, they likely won't be a playoff team.
In other words, there is a lot of pressure facing Big Ben in his return. However, the Steelers have a strong team around him that should help ease some of that pressure.
The Steelers still possess one of the best offensive lines in all of football, a veteran unit that has had continuity for quite some time now. With the defensive-minded Mike Tomlin at the helm, it seems like the Steelers are consistently a top-10 unit on defense.
Led by players such as Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Devin Bush, there are significant pieces at every level of the defense to replicate their recent success. There is strong depth at every position other than maybe safety behind Fitzpatrick and second-year player Terrell Edmunds. The defense is loaded with talent, well-coached, and tough. They will hold up their end of the bargain.
If the offense can prove to be explosive enough, this is a dangerous squad. Just a few years ago with the likes of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell in the mix, that was never a problem. Recently, the offense has lacked big-play ability.
Who will emerge behind JuJu Smith-Schuster? There is quality depth at wide receiver, tight end, and running back, but the Steelers will be hoping for someone to emerge as a legitimate difference-maker.
Bank on some combination of second-year receiver Diontae Johnson, rookie receiver Chase Claypool, and the duo of Vance McDonald and the newly signed Eric Ebron at tight end to elevate the offense.
It doesn't hurt that there are a lot of options at running back as well, meaning James Conner won't be relied on as much and should be fresher down the stretch.
11. Green Bay Packers
It seems like the Packers completely botched an off-season in which they had a prime opportunity to improve upon a 13-3 season that culminated in reaching the NFC Championship Game.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't getting any younger and you would think there would be a massive sense of urgency to take the next step and compete for a Super Bowl.
Instead, the Packers operated like a franchise that is content where they are presently while solidifying their future years down the road. Trading up for quarterback Jordan Love in the first round seems to indicate that.
There were glaring holes at wide receiver and inside linebacker that could have been addressed. Plus, it wasn't like the Packers were invincible last season either. They were 8-1 in one-possession games, an almost impossible result in the NFL. Expect them to fall back to the mean when they are involved in more close contests.
Even if the Packers' play performance was more reflective of a 10-win team according to Football Outsiders, they still return most of the roster and still have Rodgers as the starting quarterback. Matt LaFleur had a fantastic go during his first year as head coach and should improve with more experience.
The keys to the Packers' success will be replacing Blake Martinez at inside linebacker and looking for receivers to emerge behind Davante Adams. Other than Adams, the Packers may have arguably had the worst-performing receiving corps in the NFL last season.
For all the negativity surrounding the Packers' off-season, they still have a strong team that should be a major factor in the NFC. Even with the loss of Bryan Bulaga at right tackle, the offensive line is a strong unit. The running back group may be the deepest one in the league, and includes Aaron Jones as the feature back.
The defense features a mean pass rush and difference-makers on the backend, a good formula for a defense. If young players such as Rashan Gary and Josh Jackson can live up to their draft status, the defense will be even more deep and dangerous.
Depth-wise and talent-wise, the Packers are in a great spot. However, they missed the chance to improve more than they did.
10. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts will have to earn a ranking this high on the field for sure, but the team has all the makings of one not to be reckoned with.
Based on how the roster looks, it seems like the team is being underrated by many national pundits. Do they think quarterback Philip Rivers is no longer an above-average starter? Are they not confident in the receiving options behind T.Y. Hilton? Do they think the regression by the defense in the second half of 2019 is a sign of things to come?
These are fair questions to ask, but if you look a little deeper, the Colts may be in a far-better spot than you think. River's play has certainly fallen off since his prime years, but he can still sling the rock. He must cut down on the turnovers from 2019, but he should be able to behind a top-notch offensive line and in an offense that will run the rock. The combination of Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor at running back will wear defenses down and keep each other's legs fresh.
The receivers behind Hilton are unproven, but Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. are second-rounders in the past two drafts. They have big-play ability. Plus, Zach Pascal emerged as a legitimate secondary option that Rivers can look for as well. There could be a depth issue at tight end, but one of Mo Alie-Cox and Trey Burton should be able to make an impact in the passing game behind Jack Doyle.
On defense, DeForest Buckner makes a huge difference. This is an All-Pro defensive tackle that will finally give the Colts a three-technique stud they have long sought after. He will wreak havoc himself and open things up for guys on the second and third levels.
Darius Leonard is the leader of the defense and has already established himself as a top linebacker in the league after two seasons. The defense isn't lacking in depth at any position, but the secondary must be able to prove they can limit high-flying passing attacks. Young guys need to take a step forward in their developments and veterans like Malik Hooker and Xavier Rhodes need to be better than last season.
If Rivers can limit the turnovers and provide more big plays than Jacoby Brissett and the offense did last year, the Colts should be in great shape to compete and potentially win the AFC South.
General manager Chris Ballard has built an excellent roster. Now, head coach Frank Reich and the coaching staff must turn out a good product on the field.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
It seemed like neither the Eagles nor the Cowboys wanted to win the NFC East in 2019, but the Eagles wound up in the postseason with a 9-7 record.
They were shut down by the Seattle Seahawks and eliminated on Wild Card weekend, but had a nice off-season to put themselves in a better position for the 2020 season. The Eagles addressed two key weaknesses.
They desperately needed more speed at the wide receiver position. They drafted Jalen Reagor in the first round. They drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round to add another element to the offense. They traded for Marquise Goodwin and drafted speedster John Hightower later on in the draft. Suddenly, the Eagles suddenly have a track feel at wide receiver, especially if DeSean Jackson can stay healthy.
The other big weakness that the Eagles had to address was the cornerback position. For far too long, the Eagles have not had a true shutdown cornerback to alleviate some stress the secondary would face as a whole when matching up against top wideouts.
They decided to trade for Darius Slay, a Pro Bowl No. 1 cornerback who wanted out of Detroit, and locked him up to a massive contract extension. He should make a huge difference for coordinator Jim Schwartz and his aggressive defense.
Quarterback Carson Wentz must stay healthy and be at his best once the end of the season nears. This roster is strong and ready to make some noise in the NFC. Wentz has proven to be a top talent when healthy, and he now has a dangerous group of players to help him.
Andre Dillard, the 2019 first-round pick who will be the starting left tackle, must be able to adequately replace long-time starter Jason Peters. If he can protect Wentz's blindside, the offensive line shouldn't skip a beat.
The Cowboys are another team with a stacked roster in the NFC East, so the race for the top spot could be a fun one to watch. The Eagles will focus on what they can control first, though, and they appear to be capable of winning a good amount of ball games.